WPI's Board of Trustees was created in 1865, the year the university was founded. The first board consisted largely of the men who had taken the dream of WPI founder John Boynton and turned it into a reality.
The first chair (then called president) was Stephen Salisbury II, a prominent Worcester businessman who donated the land for the Institute and provided it much financial support. Other members included David Whitcomb, John Boynton's cousin, who was entrusted with Boynton's founding gift and with the mission of setting plans for the college in motion; Seth Sweetser, a prominent Worcester clergyman, who built the intellectual foundation for WPI; Emory Washburn, former governor of Massachusetts, who helped secure a charter for the new school; Ichabod Washburn, the great Worcester industrialist, who donated a working shops to the college; George Frisbie Hoar, Worcester attorney and future U.S. senator, who helped bring the principal founders together; and Worcester Mayor Phinehas Ball, the only engineer among the trustees, who played an important role in building WPI a campus.
Stephen Salisbury II served until his death in 1884. His son, Stephen Salisbury III, was WPI's third board chair, serving from 1895 until 1905. In all, the board has been led by 19 individuals, including three WPI presidents and one acting president (between 1920 and 1953 the president served also as chair). The board did not have a vice chair until 1962. Since then, 13 people have held that post.
The Board of Trustees meets regularly several times each year. Traditionally they have a Fall, Winter, and Spring meeting. The Spring meeting tends to coincide with Commencement. Subcommittees of the Board of Trustees, particularly the Executive Committee regularly meet outside of the meetings of the entire board.