The University grew out of Mason College, which can trace its roots back to the medical education seminars of Mr John Tomlinson in 1767–68. He was ‘First Surgeon’ to the Birmingham Workhouse Infirmary and his 28 weekly lectures on anatomy were the first ever held outside London or south of the Scottish border. Mason Science College itself was founded by Kidderminster-born Josiah Mason in 1875. From humble beginnings, Mason made his fortune by mass-producing key rings, pens, pen nibs and electroplating.
He became one of the country’s most esteemed industrialists and philanthropists and was knighted for his generosity in establishing a great orphanage in Erdington, a suburb of Birmingham. The College became Mason University College in 1898 with the Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain MP becoming the President of its Court of Governors.
Chamberlain was amongst the most visionary politicians of his time and his impact on the city of Birmingham, beyond the establishment of the University was immense, particularly in his improvements to living conditions and education. Thanks to Chamberlain's tireless work, the University was granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria on 24 March 1900 - and with the generous donation of land and funds, the University of Birmingham was born.