Georgia Tech History and Traditions
A High-Quality Heritage
The eighty-five students attending the first day of classes at the Georgia School of Technology in 1888 worked toward a degree in mechanical engineering, the only concentration offered. Classes were held in two buildings, including the now famous Tech Tower. That first day of classes signified the beginning of technological education and economic transformation in the agrarian South.
In 1948, the school’s name was changed to the Georgia Institute of Technology. Women were first admitted to degree-awarding programs in the fall of 1952. In 1961, Georgia Tech became the first university in the Deep South to open its doors to African American students without a court order. For more than a century, a degree from Georgia Tech has signified quality.
Georgia Tech students study hard, but they know there is more to life than all-night cram sessions and long hours in a chemistry lab. Since the first day of classes in October 1888, Tech students have developed lighthearted traditions to counterbalance the academic load. These traditions form a distinctive bond among students—a bond that unites the Tech family.
A Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech’s fight song that begins “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech” has contributed significantly to international recognition of Tech’s name. An old folk ballad, “The Sons of the Gamboliers,” inspired its words and music. The date of the song’s introduction on campus is unclear, but the words first appeared in Tech’s 1908 yearbook with all the expletives discreetly deleted.
The name “Ramblin’ Wreck” gained widespread recognition in the 1920s when Tech graduates began building makeshift mechanical buggies to improve a poor transportation system in South America. As the reputation of these young engineers spread, so did their nickname—the Ramblin’ Wrecks from Georgia Tech.
By 1959, the fame of the song was such that then-Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev sang it at their historic meeting in Moscow. The song’s copyright, once owned by early Tech bandmaster Frank Roman and later by former Beatle Paul McCartney, is now in the public domain.
The Ramblin’ Wreck
In 1961, a beautifully restored 1930 Model A Ford, resplendent in its coat of white and gold, made its first appearance on Grant Field. That automobile became the embodiment of the name “Ramblin’ Wreck” that applied at various times to the student body, athletic teams, and the famous fight song.
The Ramblin’ Wreck Parade
Every year during homecoming weekend, Tech students flaunt their mechanical inventiveness in the Ramblin’ Wreck Parade. This event challenges students to produce outlandish “mechanical monstrosities” somehow capable of traversing the course from the Coliseum down Fowler Street to Ferst Drive. Begun in 1932 as a traditional road race between Tech and University of Georgia students, the race at that time covered a course from Atlanta to Athens and involved vehicles that were unreliable at best. As cars improved in performance, the resulting higher speeds made the road race a safety hazard and forced its cancellation. By the mid-1940s, the Ramblin’ Wreck Parade had evolved to its present form.
George P. Burdell
A legend in his own time, George P. Burdell was created in 1927 as a practical joke. Incoming freshman Ed Smith received two application forms by mistake. He used one for himself and, on the second, gave the first name and initial of George P. Butler, a relative who was the headmaster of his prep school. The origin of the surname he used, Burdell, is somewhat unclear. One version of the story says that Burdell was the maiden name of Smith’s best friend’s mother; another version claims it was the name of Smith’s cat. By secretly signing George’s fictional name in addition to his own name on all of his class rolls, Smith developed him into a legitimate student. He even turned in separate exam papers for George, changing the handwriting and answers enough to convince many professors that George was actually a student in good standing. In 1930, George P. Burdell received a bachelor’s degree from Tech and later a master’s degree.
During World War II, George continued his education at Harvard University before serving with the Eighth Air Force in England. Other creative students, dismayed at the idea of losing this precocious schoolmate, have devised ways to keep George an active participant in the Georgia Tech system. In the spring of 1969, the first quarter that Georgia Tech switched completely to computerized registration, George beat the system by enrolling in not just a few courses, but in every course the school offered—that’s more than 3,000 credit hours! Though the computer system improved, it could not outwit George. In the spring of 1986, he was again on the official roster of every course on campus.
With the help of his friends, George has spent much of his time writing letters to the editors of various student publications and Atlanta newspapers, subscribing to magazines without paying for them, and applying for major credit cards. He has appeared in Tech commencement programs and was paged at the 1990 Citrus Bowl when Tech beat Nebraska 45-21 for the National Championship. At the 1995 inauguration of Tech’s tenth president, G. Wayne Clough, George’s name could be found within the inaugural program as a distinguished guest.
Sideways the Dog
In 1945, a black and white, long-haired mongrel appeared on the Tech campus after her owner moved away from the area. Injured when thrown from a car, the dog walked with her head and shoulders about fifteen degrees out of phase with her hindquarters. Observant Tech students affectionately dubbed the dog Sideways. During her two-year stay on campus, Sideways slept in a different dorm room every night and helped herself to free samples of food from the dining hall. She entertained herself during the day by following students to class, sleeping quietly through boring lectures, and staring intently at stimulating professors. Sideways died in 1947 after accidentally eating rat poison. Her headstone can be found on the northwest side of the Tech Tower.
Perhaps the most unusual animal in Tech’s history is a 400-pound bear named Bruin, owned by a Tech football player named Stumpy Thomason. Bruin first came to Tech as a gift for the football team following its 1929 Rose Bowl victory over California. Although the cub was the team’s mascot, Thomason took responsibility for Bruin’s care and feeding. Soon, Bruin became known only as Stumpy’s Bear. After establishing his winter residence under the east stands of Grant Field, Stumpy’s Bear became a familiar face on campus. The bear accompanied his owner on in-town and out-of-town trips, riding in the back seat of the car and drinking his favorite beverages—beer and Coca-Cola. As described by former Dean of Students George Griffin, Stumpy’s Bear was “as smart as most Tech students with all the bad habits of modern youth.”
The Tech Tower
The most recognizable landmark at Georgia Tech is the Tech Tower, atop the oldest building on campus, where five-foot-tall letters spell TECH. More than a century ago, before Tech graduates helped assemble Atlanta’s modern skyline, two towers dominated the campus landscape. The second tower burned in 1892 and was never replaced.
The “T” was originally stolen from the Tech Tower by a group of students who wanted to present it to retiring President Dr. Edwin Harrison for guiding Tech peacefully through the turbulence of the 1960s and the desegregation of campus. Since the tradition of T-napping only refers to the Tech Tower “T,” the Student Government Association started a new campaign—Keep the “T” in Tech—to remind students of the tradition’s origin and to encourage students to respect the property and signage across Tech’s camps.
One of the most vivid memories students take with them from Tech is the piercing shriek of the steam whistle, which sounds at five minutes before each hour from 6:55 a.m. until 5:55 p.m. Some students, however, have actually taken the whistle with them. The first whistle-napping occurred around 1902 or 1903 when two rival campus factions literally battled to determine which group would steal the whistle. After a stern warning from Dr. John Saylor Coon, Tech’s first professor of mechanical engineering, the whistle was anonymously returned the next day. A subsequent whistle-napping took place in the fall of 1905 when four students took the whistle and, fearful of punishment, kept it hidden until 1949. In the fall of 1981, the whistle was held for ransom. Some Institute personnel housed near the whistle had complained so much about its disruptive blasts that the hourly signal was discontinued. The student body, outraged at the loss of the reliable timekeeper and the resulting schedule confusion, kidnapped the whistle in protest and promised to return it only if it could continue in its traditional capacity. Long negotiations and compromise resulted in the whistle’s return to duty with the duration of its sound reduced from ten seconds to five seconds. Although the method was unorthodox, the students of Georgia Tech successfully preserved the tradition of the whistle.
Although he has only existed in his present form since 1985, Buzz is number one in the hearts of Georgia Tech family members. No one is really sure how and when the term “Yellow Jacket” came into being, although speculation points to the gold and white jackets Tech supporters wore to football games in the early 1900s. Various versions of Buzz have been used over the years. The present, charismatic Buzz was designed to adapt to all aspects of Tech life, from riding in the Ramblin’ Wreck to studying for finals.
Tech’s freshman traditions are designed to remind freshmen of their obligation to uphold Tech’s special and spirited historical customs. These freshman traditions are maintained and enforced by the Ramblin’ Reck Club. The wearing of Tech’s gold-colored RAT cap is one of the oldest freshman traditions, originating with the ANAK society in 1915. At that time, each class had its own individual colors, and the graduating seniors bequeathed their colors to the incoming freshmen. The introduction of the first military program on campus transformed the class hats into RAT caps and initiated the idea of freshmen wearing special headgear. The term RAT, which originally referred to first-year military students, gradually expanded to include all freshmen. Since then, the RAT cap has been a distinctive symbol of membership in Tech’s freshman class. The following are a few of the characteristics of a proud Tech freshman:
- Wear a RAT cap with proper inscriptions at all times during orientation week (R.A.T.S. Week) and at all home football games.
- Know the school songs—“The Ramblin’ Wreck,” “Alma Mater,” and “Up with the White and Gold”—and all the cheers.
- Attend and participate in all pep rallies and homecoming activities.
- Cheer every time the football team comes out of the huddle.
- Be friendly—a Tech student is proud of his or her association with this school and other students.
- Protect the Ramblin’ Wreck, but do not touch or tamper with it.
When the Whistle Blows
This annual event, held each spring on the Tech Tower lawn, is a remembrance service honoring students, faculty, and staff who have died during the preceding year. Family members of the deceased are recognized, and the whistle is blown once for each Tech community member being honored at the ceremony.
THE SONGS OF GEORGIA TECH
Up with the White and Gold
Oh, well it’s up with the white and gold,
Down with the red and black,
Georgia Tech is out for victory,
We’ll drop our battle ax on
When we meet her, our team is
sure to beat her.
Down on the farm there will be
Till our bow-wows rip through the air;
When the battle is over, Georgia’s
team will be found
With the Yellow Jackets swarming ’round.
Georgia Tech Alma Mater
Music by Frank Roman
Words by I. H. Granath
Oh, sons of Tech, arise, behold!
The Banner as it reigns supreme,
For from on high the White and Gold
Waves in its triumphant gleam.
The spirit of the cheering throng
Resounds with joy revealing
A brotherhood in praise and song,
In memory of the days gone by.
Oh, Scion of the Southland!
In our hearts you shall forever fly.
We cherish thoughts so dear for thee,
Oh, Alma Mater in our prayer.
We plead for you in victory,
And in the victory we share!
But when the battle seems in vain
Our spirits never falter,
We’re ever one in joy or pain
And our union is a lasting bond.
Oh! May we be united.
The Ramblin’ Wreck
I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from
And a hell of an engineer —
A helluva, helluva, helluva,
Helluva, hell of an engineer.
Like all the jolly good fellows,
I drink my whiskey clear.
I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from
And a hell of an engineer.
Oh! If I had a daughter, sir,
I’d dress her in white and gold
And put her on the campus
To cheer the brave and bold.
But if I had a son, sir,
I’ll tell you what he’d do —
He would yell “To Hell With Georgia”
Like his daddy used to do.
Oh! I wish I had a barrel of rum
And sugar three thousand pounds,
A college bell to put it in,
And a clapper to stir it ’round.
I’d drink to all good fellows
Who come from far and near.
I’m a Ramblin’, Gamblin’,
Hell of an engineer.