Harvard University is a private university
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S., and a member of the Ivy
League. Founded in 1636 by the colonial Massachusetts legislature,
Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the
United States. It is also the first and oldest corporation
in North America.
Initially called "New College" or
"the college at New Towne", the institution was named
Harvard College on March 13, 1639, after a young clergyman named
John Harvard, who bequeathed the College his library of four
hundred books and £779 (which was half of his estate).
The earliest known official reference to Harvard as a "university"
occurs in the new Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.
During his 40-year tenure as Harvard president
(1869–1909), Charles William Eliot radically transformed
Harvard into the pattern of the modern research university.
Eliot's reforms included elective courses, small classes, and
entrance examinations. The Harvard model influenced American
education nationally, at both college and secondary levels.
Eliot also was responsible for publication of the now-famous
"Harvard Classics", a collection of "great books"
from multiple disciplines, published by P. F. Collier and Sons
beginning in 1909, that offered a college education "in
fifteen minutes a day of reading." The collection soon
became known as "Dr. Eliot's Five-Foot Shelf." During
his unprecedentedly influential presidency, Eliot, a prolific
book and magazine writer and widely traveled speaker in the
pre-radio age, became so widely recognized a public figure that
by his death in 1926, his name (and, not coincidentally, Harvard's)
had become synonymous with the universal aspirations of American
Harvard University is
consistently ranked at or near the top of international college
and university rankings, and has the second-largest financial
endowment of any non-profit organization (behind the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation), standing at $28.8 billion as of 2008.