From Ohio History Central
Founded in 1828, the Ohio Mechanics Institute sought to assist Ohio's skilled workers with the state's rapidly industrializing economy.
In the 1800s, a mechanic was typically a person who was skilled in a trade. Some mechanics were blacksmiths or bricklayers, or carpenters, or held various other occupations that required extensive training. In essence, mechanics were skilled workers. These people had received extensive and lengthy training to perform their jobs.
The Ohio Mechanics Institute was first organized in Cincinnati on November 20, 1828. The state legislature granted it a charter in January 1829. The nonprofit institute sponsored lectures and provided other types of practical training for mechanics in the city. It was one of the first technical schools in the United States. The institute also established a large library and reading room. Membership cost three dollars. The organization was very successful and had approximately twelve hundred members by the 1850s. During the Civil War, the institute experienced a decline in membership, but conditions improved in the latter part of the century. The institute finally achieved economic stability after the Civil War, in part because of its connection to the Cincinnati Industrial Exposition, which was held every year.
While the Ohio Mechanics Institute focused on education, there were also other mechanics associations throughout Ohio. Most mechanics associations were fraternal organizations. Members sought to protect skilled workers in the rapidly industrializing economy of the nineteenth century. With employers increasingly turning to machines to produce products, unskilled laborers began to replace skilled workers. Instead of a skilled craftsman making an entire product by hand, now, unskilled workers typically watched machines complete most of the work. Mechanics associations usually did not accept recent immigrants or African Americans and therefore had limited membership. The Ohio Mechanics Institute did have restrictions on its membership.
In the twentieth century, the institute evolved into a college. The school offered two- and four-year training programs in the 1920s and turned to a more traditional college education program in the 1950s. In addition, the institute admitted African Americans for the first time in 1951. In 1958, the institute became known as the Ohio College of Applied Science, with an evening school still known by its original name. The Ohio College of Applied Science was incorporated into the University of Cincinnati in 1969.
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