ROTC had its beginnings in the early 1800’s when civilian colleges began to offer military instruction to students. During the early stages of the Civil War, it became apparent that the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York was not capable of producing the quantity of loyal officers required to lead the massive and poorly trained volunteer forces fighting in this War. To fill the need for a ready pool of military leaders, Congress included a special provision of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. The Act offered to each state tracts of federally controlled land, or money in lieu of land. States were to sell the land, invest the income, and create and maintain colleges with the proceeds. The colleges were to offer training in agriculture, mechanical arts, and military tactics. In 1916 with World War I raging in Europe, congress passed the National Defense Act, which created the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). This Act provided support for college military training and training camps. In 1964, the ROTC Revitalization Act added flexibility and incentives to the program. This Act created the 2-year ROTC program, increased pay, and created new scholarships. This Act also changed ROTC from mandatory to optional training on campuses across the Nation. In 1973, women became eligible for enrollment in ROTC.
On the first day of classes, Spring Semester 1868, students at the Illinois Industrial University, currently named the University of Illinois, were formed into ranks before an instructor. These 75 young men, each of whom had to be at least 15 years of age, reported for roll call to the Military Department. The first campus dress code required all pupils to wear a gray uniform with blue cap. From this beginning, training in Military Tactics was to be an integral part of education at the University of Illinois.
The present Armory building was built in 1914 with the last major renovation in 1926. The Armory building was constructed exclusively for military training: specifically to house equipment, and provide offices, classrooms and a drill floor. The original Armory floor was dirt and cinders. In 1919, ROTC, which had been created by the National Defense Act of 1916, began full operations on campus. All able-bodied males were required to take at least basic military training in ROTC. The University of Illinois established Naval ROTC in 1945 and Air Force ROTC in 1949. This made it one of the few Universities in the Nation with tri-service ROTC, which still holds true today.
Illinois has such a rich tradition of commissioning the best and brightest naval officers that when the construction of the U.S.S. Illinois battleship was halted after the end of World War II the bell which was cast for the U.S.S. Illinois battleship was sent to the University of Illinois NROTC while the rest of the ship was scrapped. Midshipmen of NROTC are in charge of ringing the bell when the visiting team kicks to Illinois, and for each point the Illini score.