The Maryland General Assembly chartered the Maryland Agricultural College on March 6, 1856, and the college was established on 428 acres of the Riversdale Plantation purchased from Charles Benedict Calvert for $21,400. The opening ceremony and dedication of the College took place on October 5, 1859; there were thirty-four students admitted to study agriculture and engineering. The first degrees were awarded on July 11, 1862. Although the College struggled with low enrollment and debt problems, community support, an emphasis on military training, and its designation as a land-grant institution in 1864 enabled the College to survive. In 1888, the College farm and Rossborough Inn became one of the first federally funded agricultural experiment stations. Tragedy struck on November 29, 1912, when a fire on campus destroyed all of the dormitories, half of the classrooms and offices, and a majority of the college's records.
The Maryland Agricultural College became the Maryland State College of Agriculture in 1916 when the state assumed control of the institution; that same year, the first female students enrolled. In 1919, the college was organized into seven schools: Agriculture, Engineering, Arts and Sciences, Chemistry, Education, Home Economics, and Graduate School (including Summer School). Because of the short, four-year duration of the Maryland State College of Agriculture, there are few photographs to document this transitional phase of the institution's history.
On April 9, 1920, the Maryland General Assembly consolidated the College Park and Baltimore campuses to form the University of Maryland. Between 1935 and 1950, there was unprecedented growth in the student population, and a number of new classrooms and dormitories were constructed. Harry Clifton "Curley" Byrd served as President from 1935 to 1954, and, under his guidance, the university experienced growing student school spirit, increased financial resources, and successful intercollegiate athletic teams. Numerous photographs document this era. Wilson H. Elkins became President in 1954 and served until 1978. A number of academic buildings were constructed during his tenure, including McKeldin Library in 1958. The institution continued to grow and thrive after Elkins' tenure, but that history is not documented in the University of Maryland Print Files.