It Happened at Michigan — The university’s first gift, in 13 volumes


The first recorded gift from an individual to the university came from a well-to-do fur trader who never set foot in Ann Arbor.

Charles W.W. Borup was a Danish physician who wanted to see that his children also experienced the joys of learning. While leading an American Fur Co. outpost in the Wisconsin Territory on the western shore of Lake Superior, Borup persuaded his boss to provide a governess to teach his children.

A photo of Charles W.W. Borup
Charles William Wulff Borup was born in Copenhagen in 1806. (Photo courtesy of the Madeline Island Museum)

“You have a family yourself and well know the anxiety a parent must feel for his children’s education,” Borup wrote. Borup and his wife, Elizabeth, had nine children.

“Dr. Borup was by no means the coarse and ribald person which the term ‘fur trader’ usually calls to mind,” wrote Professor Russell E. Bidlack, first dean of what was known as the U-M School of Library Science. Rather, Borup and his family lived a comfortable life in LaPoint, at the tip of Wisconsin’s Madeline Island. They frequently ordered books — medical textbooks, religious tracts, travel guides, novels — for their home.

In 1840, Borup shipped Brockhaus’ Konversations-Lexikon, a highly regarded German encyclopedia set, to Ann Arbor. It would be nearly a year before the first students arrived on campus for classes. But with Borup’s gift and several thousand books purchased for the university in Europe by botany professor Asa Gray, U-M had its first gift and a solid scholarly foundation in its fledgling library.

Borup’s donation comprised 13 volumes. On the flyleaf of the first volume, he wrote: “Presented to the Library of the University of Michigan by Chas. W. Borup, Lapoint L. Supr. 1840.”

The volumes can be found in U-M’s Special Collections Research Center.

A photo of a house where U-M's first books might have been stored
The university’s first books may have been stored in the home of librarian George Corselius, at 317 E. Ann St., until a campus structure opened in 1841. (Photo courtesy of the Ann Arbor District Library)


  1. Sandie Petee
    on May 9, 2024 at 8:28 am

    I love these “It Happened at Michigan” articles. So interesting to learn about the history in small snippets. Very interesting stuff, and to see photos makes it even more fun to read and learn about.

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