History

Major milestones in WMU history

Photo of WMU's two trolleys in operation.

Grateful riders were able to use the "Normal Railroad" year-round for nearly 40 years.

May 27, 1903—WMU is established by an act of the Michigan Legislature as a preparatory school for teachers and named Western State Normal School.

1904—The first classes are offered, with 117 students enrolled.

1905—Two-year teaching certificates are awarded at the first commencement.

1908—Michigan’s shortest standard-gauge rail route opened on the northeast corner of what is now Heritage Hall, with a double-track rail bed running up Prospect Hill from Davis Street. The Normal Railroad, affectionately known as “the trolley,” was powered by a stationary electric motor at the top of the hill and was in operation until 1947.

1909—The first regional location opens in Grand Rapids.

1920—The first bachelor’s degrees are awarded.

Photo of the 1924 band assembled outside in a “W” formation.

The “W” formation has been a staple of Western bands at least as far back as 1924.

1939—The school nickname is changed from the Hilltoppers to the Broncos.

1953—The first master’s degrees are awarded.

Feb. 26, 1957—WMU becomes the state’s fourth public university and receives its fifth and final name.

1968—The first doctoral degrees are awarded.

1997—A chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, America’s premier honor society, is established at WMU.

2000—WMU is classified as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

2012—A private nonprofit medical school is launched by WMU, Kalamazoo’s two world-class teaching hospitals and community philanthropists. Two years later, the newly named WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine enrolls its first class of students.

2014—WMU affiliates with the nation’s most diverse private nonprofit law school, forming the WMU Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

Photo of three 2016 football fans making the "W" symbol with their hands.

Bronco fans turned out in record numbers for the 2016-17 football season.

2015—Heritage Hall opens atop East Campus’ Prospect Hill. Formerly named East Hall, the 1905 structure was extensively renovated to take it from being the oldest and least energy-efficient building on campus to one of the most energy-efficient buildings in southwest Michigan.

 2016—WMU receives provisional licenses to offer aviation and several other of its high-profile academic programs at Florida campuses in Punta Gorda and Riverview, with final approval coming the following year.

2017—WMU’s Cotton Bowl appearance marks only the second time that a Mid-American Conference football team was selected for a New Year’s Six bowl game. Although the undefeated, No. 15-ranked Broncos lost the contest by eight points to No. 8 Wisconsin, the 2016-17 team ended its season with 73 program records broken.