In 1913, a group of MIT alumni came together to brainstorm ideas for a sentimental mascot for the Institute. On January 14, 1914, the group formally presented the beaver mascot to MIT’s President, Richard Maclaurin. This is what Lester Gardner 1897, chairman of the group, reported:
We first thought of the kangaroo, which, like Tech, goes forward by leaps and bounds and like you, comes from Australia. Then we considered the elephant. He is wise, patient, strong, hard working and like all men who graduate from Tech [MIT], has a good tough hide.
But neither of these were American animals. We turned to Mr. Hornaday’s book on the Animals of North America and instantly chose the Beaver. As you will see the Beaver not only typifies the Tech man but his habits are peculiarly our own. Mr. Hornaday states, “Of all the animals of the world, the beaver is noted for his engineering and mechanical skill and habits of industry. His habits are noctur-nal; he does his best work in the dark.
The beaver has since been named TIM. TIM frequently will appear at important MIT events, posing for pictures and generally providing joy and mirth to all those who see him.
MIT’s famous class ring is known as the Brass Rat. It was so named because it is made of gold and features a beaver on its bezel.
The students in each class year at MIT formally gather three times. They gather at the start of their undergraduate careers for the freshman picture, at the end for graduation, and halfway through for the unveiling of the class ring.
Every Brass Rat includes elements standard to every ring: a beaver on the bezel, the MIT seal on one shank and the class year of graduation on the other shank. However, each class’s brass rat is unique in its design. A student design committee incorporates secret icons and codes special to their class year.
Since 1929, the Brass Rat has been designed by a student committee. The design process begins in freshman year with the highly competitive process of choosing the ring committee, or “RingComm,” of 12 class members. To be appointed to the Ring Committee is a highly sought-after honor. The committee is chosen by the Class President and class government following a selective application and interview process.
In the spring term, the sophomores, brimming with curiosity, come together for a grand event: the Ring Premiere. The unveiling of the ring design is one of the most exciting moments of an MIT student’s college years.
Following the premiere, sophomores happily line up in MIT’s Lobby 10 to view and purchase their very own Brass Rat. In a typical year, 90 percent of all students will purchase the ring. The year ends with a delivery event, where every sophomore finally receives the Brass Rat.
The Brass Rat is also a part of MIT graduation tradition. At Commencement, MIT students wait not to move their tassels from one side to the other, but rather for the moment when they flip the ring around. While still an undergraduate, students wear the Brass Rat such that the MIT seal and motto and the Boston skyline is viewed, reminding you that you’re still a student. Upon graduation, the ring is flipped around so that the graduating year along with the MIT skyline is seen, showing that you have entered the real world and have the perspective to look back at your time at MIT.
MIT legend says that the ring is one of the most recognized rings in the world, facilitating alumni connections everywhere from job interviews to the supermarket.
MIT has a long tradition of “hacks,” clever and elegant pranks showcasing the playful and inventive spirit of MIT. Hacks are performed by hackers, MIT students who safely and stealthily execute the pranks according to an informal code of ethics. These ethics, loosely stated, assert that hacks must do no damage to property or any person, must be safe, and must provide joy or amusement to those who experience the hack.
On the final day of classes in May 1994, the city of Boston awoke to see an MIT Campus Police cruiser on top of the Great Dome. The car came complete with flashing lights and a cruiser number, π.
In actuality, the police car was the shell of a Chevrolet Cavalier attached to a multi-piece wooden frame, all carefully assembled on the roof over the course of one night. Perhaps as a nod to the very limited parking around campus, the car had been issued a parking violation reading “no permit for this location.”
The police car hack received television and newspaper coverage around the world, as far away as Korea and Israel.
On the first day of final exam week in 1999 (two days before the much anticipated release of Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace), the Great Dome was transformed into R2-D2.
Using colored fabric panels decorated with paint and burlap, the hackers carefully recreated Artoo’s equipment. For the hologram projector, hackers used a tent protruding from the side of the dome, painted in metallic colors.
The hackers left detailed schematics and disassembly instructions for the Hack Removal Team assigned to inspect the hackers’ work on the dome. The instructions were addressed to the “Imperial Drones,” and signed “Rebel Scum.”
The annual football game between Yale and Harvard Universities has been a frequent target of MIT hackers. The most memorable of these hacks took place at the 1982 meeting of the two Ivy League universities.
During a timeout after a touchdown in the first quarter, an enormous weather balloon emerged from underneath the turf at the 46-yard line. The balloon had MIT printed on it in large letters, and eventually exploded in a burst of powder.
An ingenious deployment mechanism had been designed by the MIT hackers and buried beneath the field prior to the game. A remote trigger allowed the deployment of the hack to occur during a break in play.
While some Harvard-Yale hacks have been foiled before deployment, such as in 1948 and 1978, other attempts have met with great success, such as in 1990.
In the second half of the game that year, a rocket erupted from the sod at the goal line, shooting over the goal post an 8 1/2 by 3 1/2 foot banner with the letters “MIT” on both sides. The mechanism was activated by about 480 feet of wire that ran underneath the field and connected to two metal bleachers of the stadium. The rocket was set off just as Yale prepared to kick a field goal.
The next day the Boston Herald ran the headline “MIT 1-Harvard-Yale 0; Tech Pranksters Steal the Show.”
In the spring of 2006, a 130-year-old, 1.7 ton cannon was moved from the California Institute of Technology by the MIT hacker “moving company,” Howe and Ser Moving Co. The cannon reappeared on MIT’s campus on the morning of the first day of MIT’s annual Campus Preview Weekend (CPW), adorned with a 24-karat gold plated brass rat.
In the early morning of March 28, Howe and Ser arrived at Caltech to remove the cannon. They were confronted by Caltech security, but after presenting a fabricated work order, the movers were allowed to proceed. The cannon was then carefully shipped 3,000 miles across the country, appearing just in time for 900 prospective MIT students to see it at CPW.
At the end of the weekend, Caltech students arrived on campus to attempt to secretly reclaim the cannon. However, their attempt at a stealthy recovery failed. MIT students, who had detected the Caltech students’ mission, greeted them with a barbecue party in honor of their retaking of the cannon.
The hack attracted international press attention.