Foundation Building & The Great Hall

Cooper Union Stock Photo

The Foundation Building opened in 1859 and marked the creation of The Cooper Union. The building—today a New York City landmark—quickly became a common meeting place for intellectuals, inventors, tinkerers, and people from across the social strata. At the time of its erection, the Foundation Building was one of the tallest in lower Manhattan. It boasted such novel features like a cylindrical shaft between floors for the transport of goods by pullies—with which Peter Cooper foresaw the forthcoming invention of the elevator. Perhaps its greatest feature however was the Great Hall.

The Great Hall of The Cooper Union has stood for more than a century as a bastion of free speech and a witness to the flow of American history and ideas. When the hall opened in 1858, more than a year in advance of the completion of the institution, it quickly became a mecca for all interested in serious discussion and debate of the vital issues of the day.

The Great Hall was the platform for some of the earliest workers' rights campaigns and for the birth of the NAACP, the women's suffrage movement and the American Red Cross. To the Great Hall's podium has become a pageant of famous Americans — rebels and reformers, poets and presidents. Before they were elected, Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama all spoke there. Besides Woodrow Wilson, two other incumbent presidents have spoken in the Great Hall: William Jefferson Clinton, who, on May 12, 1993, delivered a major economic address on reducing the federal deficit and Barack Obama, who, on April 22, 2010, gave an important speech on economic regulation and the financial markets.

During the past century's times of tremendous upheaval, it was through meetings in Cooper's famous auditorium that the politics and legislation necessary to build a humane city took shape.

Click here to see upcoming public events at the Great Hall.

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.