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It's been 132 years since Harvard last named a one-time member of the MIT faculty as its president.
The first was Professor of Chemistry Charles W. Eliot. He, along with mathematician John D. Runkle, was one of MIT's first professors when MIT opened in Boston in 1865. Professor Eliot, a member of Harvard's Class of 1853, left MIT to become the 21st president of Harvard in 1869 at the age of 35. He served for 40 years and frequently tried to get MIT to merge with Harvard.
Professor Eliot broached this idea with two MIT presidents who were Harvard alumni. In 1870, he discussed a merger with Professor Runkle (Harvard Class of 1851), who was then MIT's acting president. Professor Runkle was staunchly opposed.
In 1897, when chemist James Mason Crafts (Harvard Class of 1858) became president of MIT, Professor Eliot tried again, but talks foundered on administrative issues.
In 1900, President Crafts was succeeded by Henry Smith Pritchett, 42, who took a great interest in student life. President Pritchett, not a Harvard graduate, was interested in Professor Eliot's ideas for a merger of Harvard and MIT because he saw it as a solution to MIT's severe turn-of-the-century financial pressures. But after a faculty and alumni uproar on the issue, President Pritchett resigned in 1907.
The two institutions have been in friendly competition ever since.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 14, 2001.