Since the beginning of the university in 1902, student dining and social functions have taken place in many different facilities, as the institution developed over many decades. Shortly after the school moved to its present location in 1904, it became apparent that a recreation space was needed for the student population. In 1906 the gymnasium building (Martin Allen Hall) was constructed to serve that purpose. With the completion of Sheridan Hall in 1917, the Gymnasium-Women's Building then became known as the Social Building and served as a meeting place for many social activities until 1958.
Dining facilities for students were first provided in 1909 within the old Infirmary Building, which had been relocated to campus from old Fort Hays. This addition to the school was not well received by local restaurant owners of Hays City, which viewed the new dining hall as competition. In 1912, the new Agricultural High School Building (the first Rarick Hall) also provided dining facilities. This marked the first state educational institution to provide dining facilities in one of its buildings. As dining needs continued to grow, it was determined a new dining facility was required. To serve that need, Cody Commons was constructed in 1923 in the location of the present day Memorial Union kitchen/dining area.
Students began paying a $5/semester fee in 1945 to be used for a student union building. At a cost of $851,600, student fees alone financed the construction of the Memorial Union which was dedicated during Homecoming on October 18, 1958.
The present building was completed in 1958 and an annex was added in the spring of 1970. The most recent renovation was completed in 2007 at a cost of $8.5M and included the beautiful new entrance on the west side. The building encompasses 101,495 gross square feet and serves as a gathering space for faculty, staff, students and the general public.
The Union stands as a memorial to those of FHSU who lost their lives in the defense of their country during the two world wars, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War. A bronze and walnut plaque in the Sunset Lounge in the Memorial Union lists the names of the FHSU men to whom the building was originally dedicated, and a memorial was added later next to the Memorial Union for those who died in Vietnam.