ROTC had its beginning in the early 19th century, when a handful of colleges offered military instruction to students. By the time the Civil War began, everyone could see the need to develop a source of military leaders and the college campus was a logical place to find those who could qualify.

In 1862, the Land Grant Act was passed, which authorized grants of public land to state colleges that offered military training for all able-bodied male students.  As a result of this legislation, 105 colleges and universities were offering military instruction by the early 1900's. But as our nation became increasingly involved in international affairs, the need for a reserve corps of trained military officers was even more apparent.  In 1916, Congress recognized the need for an expanded military reserve to supplement the National Guard and it passed the National Defense Act.

The National Defense Act provided for the establishment of the Officers' Reserve Corps to be comprised of men trained in ROTC and in Army training camps. These officers not only served in World War I, but also went on to form the basis of the Officers' Reserve Corps in the 1930s. Consequently, when World War II broke out, ROTC was able to provide the necessary military leadership required for the Army to mobilize. Within six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than 56,000 Army ROTC officers were serving on active duty. By the end of the War, more than 100,000 ROTC officers had served our country.

Later, in Korea and Vietnam, Army ROTC graduates reaffirmed our national commitment to a defense force led in part by Citizen Soldiers who had been prepared for leadership on the campuses of our colleges and universities. Because of conflict, Congress added additional strength to the program with the passage of the ROTC Vitalization Act of 1964.

The act provided for the establishment of Army ROTC scholarships, the creation of the two-year program, and an increase in the amount of money ROTC students receive. These additional incentives stimulated enrollment in the program and introduced the rewards of military life to thousands of qualified young students.

Cadet Command was activated on April 15, 1986, with the headquarters located at Fort Knox, Kentucky and currently consists of 273 Senior ROTC programs and 1,465 Junior ROTC programs.