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School Mascots

A beaver, a seal, and an engineer

By Aaron D. Mihalik

At the center of school spirit undoubtedly lies the school mascot and other representative symbols. Currently there are three symbols that are used to represent MIT: the engineer, the beaver, and the “Mens et Manus” seal.

Although there seems to be no documentation on when the engineer officially became a symbol of MIT, it is likely that it has been used since the beginning of the Institute. Since MIT is primarily an engineering school, an engineer is an obvious symbol to use to represent the student body. The MIT Chorallaries have since developed an “Engineer’s Drinking Song.” This entertaining song reflects the comic and creative nature of the students at MIT.

The drinking song is relatively new. It was written shortly after the creation of the Chorallaries in 1977, by David H. Bass ’83. Verses are continually added to the song and currently it boasts almost 50 different verses. These verses include ones that humorously degrade other schools and others that show the ingenious nature and boisterous drinking habits (“we can, we can, we can demolish 40 beers”) of the engineer.

“Some schools have more standard traditional songs about their school,” said Bernard R. Levin ’00, music director of the MIT Chorallaries. “We do have the alma mater, but [the drinking song] is much more offbeat and humorous, and I think that suits MIT well.”

An amusing quality of the drinking song is that it is constantly changing. “We tend to write new verses for Bad Taste, at various times throughout the year, and the graduating seniors typically write a verse for their last concert,” said Levin.

“People seem to love [the drinking song] at MIT,” said Levin. “Especially the verse that trashes Harvard and says they can kiss the beaver’s ass.”

“We recently performed the Engineer’s Drinking Song as an encore for a gig with a capella groups from Ivy League schools,” said Levin. “It was our chance to... poke fun at Harvard, if not at the others.... It was definitely our way of showing MIT pride.”

“It continually gets verses added whenever we do new events, such as the beaver’s birthday party in Lobby 7 this year, or each year at Bad Taste,” said Sheri A. Cheng ’99, the Chorallaries’ business manager.

Beaver becomes MIT’s animal mascot

The beaver is perhaps the most conspicuous symbol of MIT. It appears on the “brass rat” class ring and a costumed beaver occasionally appears at sporting events and some student activities.

The beaver was adopted as the MIT mascot in 1914. Lester D. Gardner 1898 presented the idea to MIT president Richard C. Maclaurin at the annual dinner of the Technology Club of New York. According to brass rate lore, Gardner’s argument for choosing a beaver follows:

“We first thought of the kangaroo, which, like Tech, goes forward by leaps and bounds. Then we considered the elephant. He is wise, patient, strong, hard working, and like all those who graduate from Tech, has a good tough hide. But neither of these were American animals. We turned to [William Temple] Hornaday’s book on the animals of North America and instantly chose the beaver. The beaver not only typifies the Tech [student], but his habits are peculiarly our own. The beaver is noted for his engineering, mechanical skills, and industry. His habits are nocturnal. He does his best work in the dark.”

The beaver mascot can also be seen in full gear at sports games and other student events. The first beaver costume design was created for the Class of 1927’s 50th reunion and unveiled at the Alumni Day luncheon. It was rented from the costume designer until the early 80’s when it was bought for $1,500.

The costume has become worn-out over the years. The nose is chafed, the eyes need constant attention, and the legs are threadbare and shedding. Due to the wear of the costume, Ted E. Johnson, assistant director for programs at the Campus Activities Complex, is working with the CAC advisory board and the Undergraduate Association to develop a new design for the beaver mascot costume.

“We are working with [the MIT community] to develop an image,” said Johnson. “It is a very delicate matter of choosing the right beaver that will represent MIT.”

Currently, Johnson is working with students who submitted entries in the MIT beaver design contest sponsored by CAC. “As it stands now, we are planning to select the image, have the costume constructed this summer, and debuted at an appropriate event in the fall.”

“I like the beaver... he cracks me up,” said Cheng. “And especially when they do cartwheels... you wonder how they keep that gigantic head-thing on.”

MIT seal first adopted in 1864

The oldest official MIT symbol is the “Mens et Manus” seal that appears on MIT letterheads and other official documents.

The seal contains many different items. The most prominent figures (the laborer at the anvil and the scholar with a book) represent MIT’s incorporation of science and industry into its curriculum. The year 1861 refers to the year that MIT was incorporated by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The Latin inscription “Mens et Manus” (translated to “mind and hand”) and the books that appear (entitled, “Science and Arts”) on the pedestal embody the idea of cooperation between knowledge and practical science.

The seal was adopted in 1864 and was engraved in 1865 for a cost of $285. The seal was modernized during President Howard Johnson’s (1966-1971) administration. Also, the seal has been hacked numerous times and several unofficial versions are popular with student organizations on campus.