The concept of the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) in the United States began with the Morrill Act of 1862 which established the land-grant colleges. The federal government established the requirement for the inclusion of military tactics as part of the curriculum, forming what became known as ROTC. At many universities, participation in ROTC was compulsory for all male underclassmen and these ROTC graduates would form the Officer Corps in any future conflicts. ROTC expanded in the lead up to World War I and again prior to World War II. After the great wars, ROTC began to shift to a pre-commissioning training program for student seeking commissions in the Armed Forces of the United States.
In 1948, the State Board of Education authorized the four teachers' colleges in Michigan to request and install ROTC on their campuses. However, NMU’s application was not accepted. After 1952, due to the expense of expanding ROTC programs and manpower issues, the Secretary of the Army instructed the U.S. Army not to increase the program beyond established units. In 1965, President Edgar Harden expressed NMU’s continued interest in being considered as a host university should the ROTC program be expanded. However, it was not until 1967 that Northern was invited to file a formal application for a senior ROTC unit.
Ironically, NMU’s request to establish an ROTC unit coincided with the growing unpopularity of the Vietnam War. Nationwide campus protests, mostly concerning the war and military conscription, sometimes focused on the ROTC units on campuses. In keeping with the sentiment of the times, there were debates over the establishment of ROTC at NMU. Many students, faculty, and administrators objected to the program as they believed the program would be compulsory similar to the ongoing military draft. However, by late summer, objections to the establishment of the ROTC were overcome by the knowledge that ROTC was a voluntary program. In November 1968, Northern was notified that its application had been accepted and meetings were held to discuss the implementation of this program.
The Department of the Army began assigning officers to the detachment in February of 1969. On April 17, 1969, NMU's Department of Military Science was established. In keeping with long standing tradition, NMU’s ROTC Cadets incorporated the host university’s athletic mascot name becoming the Wildcat Battalion of U.S. Army ROTC. Housed initially in the local National Guard Armory, the first classes met in September with an enrollment of 53 students. In the spring of 1971, the Department commissioned its first two lieutenants. In 1973, ROTC was officially opened to women and 13 female students enrolled in the program. From 1976 to 1982, NMU ROTC also hosted Lake Superior State's ROTC program.
By 1977, with the establishment of the “All Volunteer Force” within the Department of Defense, the ROTC Program became a merit-based scholarship and tuition assistance program for students desiring to become commissioned officers. U.S. Army ROTC has grown to become the largest leadership development and merit-based scholarship program in the country.
Today, NMU’s Wildcat Battalion of U. S. Army ROTC continues to offer a wide variety of scholarships and tuition assistance to students seeking to serve on active duty in the U.S. Army or in the U.S. Army Reserve and National Guard. The Military Science department also offers a Minor of Military Science and Leadership for all students as a compliment to any academic major.