The University began as The Agricultural and Mechanical College of the State of Mississippi, one of the national Land-Grant Colleges established after Congress had passed the Morrill Act in 1862. It was created by the Mississippi Legislature on February 28, 1878, to fulfill the mission of offering training in "agriculture, horticulture and the mechanical arts . . . without excluding other scientific and classical studies, including military tactics." The College received its first students in the fall of 1880 in the presidency of General Stephen D. Lee. In 1887 Congress passed the Hatch Act, which provided for the establishment of the Agricultural Experiment Station in 1888. Two other pieces of federal legislation provided funds for extending the mission of the College: in 1914, the Smith-Lever Act called for "instruction in practical agriculture and home economics to persons not attendant or resident," thus creating the state-wide effort which led to Extension offices in every county in the State; and, in 1917, the Smith-Hughes Act provided for the training of teachers in vocational education.
By 1932, when the Legislature renamed the College as Mississippi State College, it consisted of the Agricultural Experiment Station (1887), the College of Engineering (1902), the College of Agriculture (1903), the School of Industrial Pedagogy (1909), the School of General Science (1911), the College of Business and Industry (1915), the Mississippi Agricultural Extension Service (1915), and the Division of Continuing Education, (1919). Further, in 1926 the College had received its first accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
By 1958, when the Legislature again renamed the College, as Mississippi State University, the Office of Graduate Studies had been organized (1936), doctoral degree programs had begun (1951), the School of Forest Resources had been established (1954), and the College of Arts and Sciences had been created (1956).
The College of Architecture admitted its first students in 1973. The College of Veterinary Medicine admitted its first class in 1977, and the School of Accountancy was established in 1979.