- Insulin is one of many discoveries made at U of T.
- U of T has been home to 10 Nobel Prize winners at significant points in their careers.
- Marshall McLuhan began the Communication and Culture seminars at U of T in the early 1950s.
- U of T alumnus Arthur Schawlow shared in the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics for contributing to the development of laser spectroscopy.
- Photo credits: David Sean Lestera, Jeff Keyzer
A rich and remarkable history.
Insulin, pablum and the electron microscope are all discoveries of U of T’s best and brightest. For nearly two centuries, the great minds of our faculty and alumni have contributed to advance knowledge and shape our world.
Breaking Barriers from the Start
Women were granted admission to U of T in 1884, a milestone that opened the doors to generations of exceptional academics such as neurobiologist and astronaut Roberta Bondar, conservationist Nora Urquhart and astronomer Helen Sawyer Hogg. Chemist Clara Benson, who in 1903 was one of the university’s first female Ph.D. graduates, was a pioneer in women’s athletics.
Founded in 1901, University of Toronto Press has published such major works as The Historical Atlas of Canada and the Complete Works of Erasmus, as well as U of T historian Ronald Pruessen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book John Foster Dulles: The Road to Power.
Overcoming Two World Wars and the Great Depression
The 1920s were the time of groundbreaking scientific innovations at U of T, most notably Frederick Banting and Charles Best’s 1921 discovery of insulin, the first successful treatment for diabetes. Six years later, Edward (Ted) Rogers launched the world’s first battery-less broadcasting station, which years later became CFRB.
With the 1930s and early 1940s came the Great Depression and World War II, but the ambitions of our scholars remained strong. Physicist Eli Franklin Burton built North America’s first electron microscope, and medical graduate Wilbur Franks developed the “anti-black-out” suit, which not only saved thousands of allied fighter pilots, but also served as the blueprint for space suits.
The post-war years ushered in a cultural renaissance, led by great minds such as political economist Harold Adams Innis and renowned literary critic Northrop Frye. International travel also began to open up around this time, and U of T experienced the first influx of students from around the world.
The 1960s and 1970s were decades of change, in which forward thinkers such as novelist Margaret Atwood and media theorist Marshall McLuhan flourished. U of T graduate Leonard Braithwaite entered the political scene in 1963 as Ontario’s first Black MPP and the first Black Canadian to be elected to a provincial legislature in Canada, where he helped revoke a 114-year-old law allowing racial segregation in Ontario schools.
In 1969 Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau decriminalized homosexuality and the University of Toronto Homophile Association was born. Today, the university remains a positive space environment.
Leading the Way to the Future
In the 1980s and 1990s, U of T was a leader in scientific and medical discoveries, such as the world’s first lung and nerve transplants, as well as the isolation of the genes for cystic fibrosis and early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
Environmental research also began to gain prominence. Martin Hubbes, the Faculty of Forestry’s Professor Emeritus, discovered an ecologically friendly way to protect trees against Dutch Elm disease, and physicist Jim Drummond’s team developed a system for the Measurement of Pollution in the Troposphere (MOPITT), which provided the world with its first space-based measurements of atmospheric pollution.
U of T made an important commitment to First Nations in 1986 when traditional healer and Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) graduate Diane Longboat pioneered the Aboriginal Health Professions Program. Building on that success, U of T has since expanded its university-wide services, including First Nations House, the Office of Aboriginal Student Services and Programs and the Native Students’ Association.
Now, in the early years of the new millennium, University of Toronto continues to evolve and contribute to the world of tomorrow.