History of University of Silicon Valley formally Cogswell College

The spirit of creating the extraordinary is alive and well at University of Silicon Valley. In fact, it’s in our DNA. It has been this way since 1887 when Dr. Henry Cogswell opened the doors to Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Francisco. Dr. Cogswell believed that the best path to learning was through doing — an anthem we still salute.

Born in Tolland, Connecticut, March 3, 1820, Dr. Cogswell was a man of both vision and distinguished heritage. The Cogswell family was descended from Alfred the Great and Charlemagne and immigrated to America in 1635 from England. Dr. Cogswell cherished his family crest and motto, “Nec Sperno Nec Timeo,” which means, “I neither despise nor fear.” As his ancestors numbered among America’s pioneers, so was Dr. Cogswell ’s own life one of pioneering and service.

Henry D. Cogswell had a humble childhood. It was necessary for young Cogswell to go to work at an early age in the New England cotton mills. After a day’s work in the mills, he spent the evening hours reading, writing, and learning arithmetic. Eventually he became a teacher, but after one year, he decided to enter the dental profession. Upon completion of his training at the age of 26, Dr. Cogswell began the practice of dentistry in Providence, Rhode Island.

In 1846, Dr. Cogswell married Caroline E. Richards, daughter of Ruel Richards, a manufacturer in Providence. When gold was discovered in California, Dr. Cogswell followed the pioneering urge he inherited from his ancestors. He left for California by sea and after 152 days aboard the clipper ship “Susan G. Owens” landed in San Francisco on October 12, 1849. Rather than enter the rugged and uncertain business of mining, he practiced dentistry and established a mercantile business in the mining region.

After several successful years of dental practice and real estate investments and buoyed by his ever-present strength of purpose, Dr. Cogswell became one of San Francisco’s first millionaires. Dr. Cogswell was a pioneer in his profession as well. In 1847, he designed the vacuum method of securing dental plates. In 1853, he performed the first dental operation in California using chloroform.

On March 19, 1887, Dr. and Mrs. Cogswell executed a trust deed setting apart real property (valued at approximately one million dollars) to establish and endow Cogswell Polytechnical College. It was, as far as is known, the first school of its kind west of the Mississippi River. The purpose of the College as a charitable trust is well expressed in the words of Dr. Cogswell in his presentation address to the first Board of Trustees, which he and Mrs. Cogswell had selected. It is remarkable that his reference to the immediate need for technical training is as true now as it was at that time. He spoke, in part, as follows:

“Educated working men and women are necessary to solve the great labor problems that will arise in the future. For the purpose of this education, there is room and need for technical schools in all quarters of our country. For the purpose, then, of providing boys and girls of the state a thorough training in mechanical arts and other industries, we have made the grant, as set forth in these papers, providing for the founding and maintaining of Cogswell College.”

The school was opened in August 1888 as a high school with well-equipped departments of technical education for boys and business education for girls. The school operated in this capacity until June 30, 1930, when its status was changed to that of a technical college offering a college-level two-year programs in Engineering Technology, Safety Management and Architecture, granting Associate and Bachelor degrees.

The College has had six campuses during its history. The first building, occupied in 1888, was located in the Mission District in San Francisco, California. When the 1906 earthquake partially destroyed the campus, a new building was built across the street at 26th and Folsom Streets. It was occupied in 1917.  In 1974, the College purchased and moved to a location at Stockton and California Streets and converted the interior to classrooms, laboratories, shops and other facilities, including a 200-seat auditorium. The building's original exterior features were preserved. The building was named a San Francisco city landmark in 1984 and placed on the list of Architecturally Significant Structures. In 1985 University of Silicon Valley again relocated, this time to Bubb St. in Cupertino - a city within the Silicon Valley. The previous building became the Ritz Carlton San Francisco. In 1994, the College moved to Bordeaux Drive in Sunnyvale, CA where it remained until 2015 when it moved to its current location in North San Jose.