On May 10, 1869, trains of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads drew together at Promontory, Utah. President of the Central Pacific and former Governor of California Leland Stanford wielded a sledge of Nevada silver to tap a spike of California gold into a polished laurel tie, thus heralding completion of the transcontinental railroad. A few days later, on May 14, the only child of Jane and Leland Stanford, Leland Jr., celebrated his first birthday. In 1876 the small family bought the first parcel of land on the San Francisco Peninsula that would be their celebrated Palo Alto Stock Farm and later the site of Stanford University.
Young Leland loved the life on the Palo Alto ranch. He kept dogs and horses, knew all about the farm machinery and built a miniature railroad with 400 feet of track on the grounds of their country home. He spoke French fluently and, on trips to Europe with his parents, developed his passion for collecting artifacts from archaeological sites as well as the natural world.
The family was in Italy in 1884 when Leland contracted typhoid fever. He was thought to be recovering, but on March 13 at the Hotel Bristol in Florence, Leland's bright and promising young life came to an end, two months before his 16th birthday. Stanford, who had remained at Leland's bedside continuously, fell into a troubled sleep the morning the boy died. When he awakened he turned to his wife and said, "The children of California shall be our children." These words were the real beginning of Stanford University.
Jane and Leland settled on creating a great university for "other people's children", one that, from the outset, was untraditional, being both co-educational and non-denominational. On November 11, 1885, Leland Stanford dictated the Founding Grant from the veranda of the Palo Alto country house. The Founding Grant stands today as the University's "constitution." It stipulates that the objectives of the university are:
- "to qualify students for personal success and direct usefulness in life; and to promote the public welfare by exercising an influence on behalf of humanity and civilization, teaching the blessings of liberty regulated by law, and inculcating love and reverence for the great principles of government as derived from the inalienable rights of man to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Construction was complete on the Inner Quad of 12 classroom buildings plus three engineering buildings, Encina Hall for men and Roble Hall for women, by the University's opening six years later, on October 1, 1891.