On September 21, 1874, James Lick established a trust of $540,000 to endow the California School of Mechanical Arts, now commonly referred to as "Lick." George Merrill was hired to create and manage the school as the first director. Lick opened in January 1895, offering free education to boys and girls. The curriculum combined a general intellectual preparation with technical and vocational instruction. Merrill's goal was to create the "educated craftsman."
In 1894, Jellis Clute Wilmerding left $400,000 to the Regents of the University of California to establish and administer another school, the Wilmerding School of Industrial Arts, a school for boys specializing in building trades and architecture drafting. The Regents eventually situated the school next to Lick and, after only a year, invited George Merrill to become the Director of the Wilmerding School, in addition to the California School of Mechanical Arts.
A nationally recognized pioneer in vocational education, George Merrill was eventually asked to found and administer one more school, the Lux School for Industrial Training for Girls. Miranda Lux died in 1894, leaving money in her will to establish a school. Lux began operating in August 1912, when 120 girls entered its program using the Lick facilities. The curriculum was organized around five subjects: sewing and textiles, food, health, art, and retailing and merchandising. Lux opened its own building the following year, on land purchased from the Lick and Wilmerding Schools. The original Lux building still stands today at the corner of 17th and Potrero Streets in San Francisco.
Until 1939, the schools shared facilities, faculty and George Merrill, while maintaining independent trusts, boards and curricula. The Lux motto, "To do common things uncommonly well," expressed the educational philosophy which bound the schools together. Lux closed in 1952, but its early contribution to women was a significant accomplishment and model nationally.
In 1955, Lick-Wilmerding High School moved to its current campus on Ocean Avenue and became a boys only school, while beginning to develop its outstanding college preparatory curriculum. In 1972, LWHS became co-educational once again and, shortly thereafter, began charging tuition for the first time in its history.