Caltech was founded as Throop University in 1891 by Amos G. Throop. The school went through a number of different names before eventually settling on The California Institute of Technology, although everyone just calls it Caltech.
In 1907, George Ellery Hale joined the school’s board of trustees, and was instrumental in transforming the college from a vocational school into one of the foremost names in scientific research and education.
The oldest buildings on campus were designed by Bertram Goodhue, who combined the philosophy of the school with the Spanish mission-style architecture popular in the region. The architecture retains that feel today, though there are also a number of modern buildings scattered about, like the newer labs.
The campus seems very large compared to the small student body, because there are so many research facilities. There are small ponds scattered throughout the gorgeous green campus, and students who aren’t inside their rooms working on problem sets can enjoy the California sun on the nicely landscaped lawns.
Caltech is located in Pasadena, CA, in Los Angeles County. The city has a population of 133,000, making it the sixth largest in the county. Pasadena has a downtown area for shopping or dining, and is home to a number of artistic and scientific points of interest: the Norton Simon Museum of Art, the Pasadena Playhouse and of course, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (where many spacecrafts are designed for NASA). Pasadena is also known for hosting the annual Rose Bowl.
Students are often so busy that they find it difficult to enjoy the city, but when they do find the time, they can enjoy all that Pasadena has to offer, plus the beaches and other nearby cities, such as Los Angeles itself.
One day each year, the seniors ditch school. To prevent underclassmen from coming into their rooms while they’re gone for the day, seniors leave behind a slew of traps and obstacles. Students often spend months planning the most elaborate traps they can and classes are cancelled for the day so that all can participate.
During finals week, students play Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” at 7:00AM every morning through speakers loud enough to echo across the campus. Unless it happens during a viewing of the full Wagnerian Ring Cycle, the song may not be played on Caltech’s campus at any other time during the year, or the player will face harsh consequences from his or her peers.
Caltech has a long history of elaborate and drawn out pranks, most famously the Great Rose Bowl Hoax of 1961, where Caltech students altered the cards that Washington fans were supposed to hold up so that they spelled “Caltech” rather than “Washington” at the televised game.
Carl D. Anderson (1927) won the Nobel Prize in 1936 for the discovery of the positron.
Frank Capra (1918) was a director of such films as It’s a Wonderful Life.
Chester Floyd Carlson (1930) invented the photocopier and founded Xerox.
David Ho (1974) is a virologist and physician. He serves as the director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center and was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1996.
Sharon Long (1973) is a geneticist and molecular biologist. She is a pioneer in the study of how Rhizobium bacteria infect legume plants and establish a nitrogen-fixing symbiosis in root nodules. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1993.
Benoit Mandelbrot (1949) is a mathematician known as “the father of fractal geometry.”
John McCarthy (1948) is the inventor of Lisp programming language.
Linus Pauling (1925) was the first chemist to explain the nature of the chemical bond. He was the only person ever to win two unshared Nobel prizes: for chemistry in 1954, and for peace in 1962.
Harrison Schmitt (1957) is a former NASA astronaut who served one term as a Republican senator from New Mexico. Schmitt is also, to date, one of the last men to walk on the moon.
Caltech is not known for its sports teams (the basketball team just ended one of the longest losing streaks in history: 207 games lost, dating back to 1996). Like most Division III schools, Caltech does not give out sports scholarships or actively recruit athletes.
Houses do, however, have inter-house tournaments in various sports, both real and made up. Lloyd House, in particular, is known as the athletic house, and has held the Inter-house Trophy for the past five years. 25% of Caltech students participate in some form of athletics.
The school in the movie “Real Genius” is based on Caltech, and many of the subplots and pranks are based on real life events from the school’s history.
Caltech has had more Nobel Prize winning professors and alumni per capita than any other school in the country. Notable former professors include Linus Pauling, Richard Feynman, and visiting professor Albert Einstein.
Caltech has a 3:1 faculty-student ratio, the lowest of any top 50 research university.
Caltech’s honor code is simply: “No member of the Caltech community shall take unfair advantage of any other member of the Caltech community.
Caltech students are assigned to live in houses, similar to the residential college systems of Oxford or Cambridge. More like fraternities than mere living spaces, the students in the various houses have rivalries with other houses, sit down for communal dinners, and generally share a sense of family. Each house has its own traditions, nicknames and mottos, and often members often play pranks on other Undergrads generally stay members of their houses throughout their school careers.
The houses are divided into two groups, the North Houses (consisting of Lloyd, Page, and Ruddock) and the South Houses (Blacker, Dabney, Fleming, and Ricketts). Standing alone is Avery House, the newest in the house system—this house only recently admitted freshmen through rotation and its facilities are open to all members of the school (rather than just house members).
There are also a number of “off-campus” houses, so-called despite actually being located on the campus itself. These houses do not have memberships, though many students of various houses physically live in them if, for whatever reason, they are unable to live in their own houses.