In 1854, the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute, the first school for boys in the City of Brooklyn, opened its doors at 99 Livingston Street in Brooklyn Heights. "The Poly," as it soon became known, offered an academic program designed to rival those at the most prestigious boarding schools of the time. However, the school intended its boys to remain "surrounded by all the saving influences of home and the family circle."
Poly's first trustees promised a program offering excellence "in all those studies and attainments that can enlarge the understanding, develop the mental action, cultivate the mind, and beautify and adorn the intellect and the heart." These original ideals—respect for academic rigor and for the bonds of family and community—inform the school to this day.
Over the next thirty-five years, the school flourished, with its rigorous college preparatory program drawing students from all over Brooklyn and New York. Students in the upper grades were engaged in a full course of college-level studies, and it eventually became clear that the preparatory school and the collegiate division should be separated. In 1891, the construction of a new building next door provided a home for the college, to be known as the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.
The Polytechnic Preparatory Institute continued to thrive at 99 Livingston Street, and by the mid-1890s was one of the largest prep schools in the country, with over six hundred students. Now independent from the college, Poly Prep students took a more active role in shaping the school for themselves, creating a newspaper, a dramatic society, and a debating club, and urging the school administration to provide more opportunities for athletics.