There has long been a desire among men to join together and share the common bond of striving for excellence. It was this desire that led seven men of the Union Literary Society to band together with Oren Root Jr., a professor of the English Language and Literature at what was then Missouri State University, to create such a society. On November 7, 1870, the Zeta Phi Society was born. The minutes of the first meeting state that the organization was a "secret society, the objective of which was to be a social and intellectual culture, as well as [to develop] close intimacy through life."
This organization grew stronger with every passing year, and in the late 1870s, the society expanded to form chapters at William Jewel College in Liberty, Missouri, and at Washington University in Saint Louis.
Several national fraternities also seeking expansion chapters soon approached Zeta Phi. The men of Zeta Phi declined the offers to join other fraternities until 1890, when they were approached by the men of Beta Theta Pi. On March 8, 1890, the two organizations merged and the Zeta Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi was created. In the fraternity’s early years, the Beta men at Missouri met occasionally in the Union Literary Building for to discuss current issues of the chapter. It was not until 1901 that the Betas began living together in a two-story house at 201 South Ninth Street. Living together allowed the men to realize the true meaning of brotherhood and helped strengthen the chapter as a whole. As the chapter grew in size, a new, larger living establishment was required. In 1904, a spacious, three-story frame house was constructed at 714 Missouri Avenue. This building was made possible largely to donations from the Zeta Phi Corporation, a group that is still in existence today. When this building was destroyed in a fire on New Year's Day, 1912, the powerful Beta Alumni aided the men of the chapter in constructing a house at 520 South College Avenue, where the Beta House stands to this day.
In 1917, the Zeta Phi chapter was honored as the first recipient of the Sisson Award, Beta Theta Pi’s national award for the chapter which "most nearly approximates the ideal chapter." Since that time, the Zeta Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi has graduated nationally prominent business leader, politicians, pioneers in the fields of law and medicine, and national heroes. Throughout the many long years of existence, the Zeta Phi chapter has held strong traditions and its members have truly become "friends who search together."