William Barton Rogers studied physics, chemistry, geology, and mechanics, and contributed some of the earliest American research on the geology of mountain chains. Rogers founded the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and served as the university’s first president.
In 1828, Rogers succeeded his father as professor of physics and chemistry at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia. Seven years later, he accepted a position as chair of natural philosophy and geology at the University of Virginia. Rogers was appointed to lead a geological survey of Virginia, while his brother simultaneously led a geological survey of Pennsylvania. In collaboration, the two men were able to study the Appalachian Mountain range and publish extensive research on faults, coal deposits, thermal springs, and other phenomena in their respective states.
Rogers resigned his position at the University of Virginia in 1853 and moved to Boston, where his attention turned to physics. The state governor asked him to develop and oversee a program for inspecting and controlling quality of gas and gas meters, which led Rogers to propose a state-wide training program for technologic development and training. His idea became real with the establishment of MIT in 1865, where he served as president and remained on faculty for the rest of his life.
Rogers was a member and one-time president of the National Academy of Sciences, as well as the American Naturalists and Geologists Association. He also joined the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Boston Society of Natural History.