Campus Post Office Bolstered Penn State’s New Role as a University

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – The dateline on this and other stories coming from University Park may have been STATE COLLEGE, Pa., if it were not for Penn State President Milton Eisenhower.

In 1953, nearly a hundred years after its founding, the Pennsylvania State College changed its name to The Pennsylvania State University. Not long after, Eisenhower decided that it would not be in the institution’s best interest to keep “State College” as its mailing address. He felt that State College – the name of the town surrounding and including the campus – was at odds with the school’s new university identity and created confusion throughout the state and the nation.

Eisenhower proposed that the best solution to this problem would be for the borough to change its name. The citizens of State College debated this idea, and the borough council believed that the best way to resolve the issue would be by ballot. The residents were presented a choice between “State College” and “Mount Nittany.”

Eisenhower officially backed Mount Nittany – he felt it was descriptive, likely to wear well, and there would be no conflict with the name of the University. However, many borough residents thought the name too rural; or that it was arbitrarily chosen; or that it was going against tradition.

Eisenhower also had petitioned the board of trustees to apply for a separate post office for the university – which meant the institution could choose any name it wanted for the new mailing address. When he made this public right before the vote, some residents felt they were being threatened, and Mount Nittany was defeated, 2,434 to 1,475.

That didn’t discourage Eisenhower. The trustees authorized his request and an application was sent to the Post Office Department in Washington, D.C. No one doubted it would receive approval, as Milton’s brother, Dwight, was current occupant of the White House.

Faculty, staff and alumni were asked to vote for the new name, with the choices of “Atherton,” “Centre Hills,” “Keystone,” “Mount Nittany,” “University Centre,” “University Heights” – and “University Park,” which was, of course, the winner.

Approval for a post office could take many months or even years, but the new University Park one took only two months to come into being (being brothers with the president of the United States surely was a good thing). University Park’s P.O. was housed in the new Hetzel Union Building and opened for business on Feb. 22, 1955. The official home of Zip code 16802 eventually moved to its current location in McAllister Building.

Fun fact: On that date, the new P.O. offered for sale a 3-cent stamp honoring Michigan State College and The Pennsylvania State University as the two oldest land-grant institutions.

There is an oft-repeated myth about University Park’s origins. The details differ but the main story mostly goes like this: Milton and Dwight Eisenhower loved to receive care packages of cookies from their mother, but Dwight would always receive his sooner than his brother, due to Penn State not having a separate post office from State College. In frustration, Milton requested – and received – a new postal station for Penn State. 

Source: Penn State University.

Pictured at top: At 100 years old, Pennsylvania State University gained its own mailing address and post office — University Park, Pennsylvania — thanks to the efforts of Penn State President Milton Eisenhower, shown here sending a piece of mail at the post office in the Hetzel Union Building. (Penn State University Archives | Penn State | Creative Commons)

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