Tech Tower is a symbol of school spirit

By Pat Edwards
Ramblin' Reck Club

If there has ever been an architectural icon of the Georgia Institute of Technology it would have to be our beloved Tech Tower. The Tower has, over the years, gone by the name of Classroom Building, Main, and most recently the Administration Building. Tech Tower with its distinctive high Victorian architecture's gabled roofs, steeple and unique lighted 'TECH' sign has long been one of the most endearing symbols of the Institute for students and the community.

Built as part of Tech's original construction for a price of approximately $38,000, the Classroom Building shared the architectural feature of a Victorian tower with the old Shop Building. That building, which resembled Main with a longer ground structure, housed woodshops, foundries and washrooms. The Shop, however, burned down after the turn of the century, leaving Main as the only standing Victorian tower on campus.

The Tower first received its TECH sign after the class of 1922, during their freshman year, decided that their contribution to Tech should include a symbol that would 'light the spirit of Tech to the four points of the compass.' The first signs were flat, wooden affairs, painted all white or all gold, and placed on alternating sides of the tower. The signs were illuminated by lights trained on them from around the tower. During the 1930's the sign itself was lighted by including light bulbs mounted inside of the letters allowing for a more illuminating presence.

In 1949 plans were introduced to upgrade the letters to today's standard which include a metal frame construction for strength and durability, and the introduction of neon lights shaped inside the metal frames. During the renovation, which fell around the Christmas holidays, the Institute, for the only time in its history, replaced the yellow and white with green and red letters. (Thankfully that hasn't happened again)

Perhaps the most popular tradition associated with Tech Tower, and the signs thereon, is the stealing of a T from the tower resulting in a translation of the more polite 'TECH' to a more honest (at least during finals) 'ECH'. This tradition, much hashed and rehashed from your first days at Tech, will not be visited in this article.

There is also a popular myth that the institute's archives have a much touted file, donated by a fraternity, to map out the perfect T theft. Sadly, the librarians have no such file. It does not exist, and never has.

Over the years a common thread has characterized the T thieves: they always use bellicose pseudonyms. These include the Super Seven in 1965, the Mystic Marauders, or the Sneaky Four. In 1994 an Email message is shown for a climb@top.gatech.edu asking about why no one had attempted a T theft for a while. Apparently Tech students are willing to try their pranks only if they are accompanied with a plausible deniability.

Interestingly, the first Tech Tower prank predates the lighted sign. In 1902 James Anthony (Class of '02), celebrated his senior year by climbing the tower and painting a message T + M '02 for the Tech community to enjoy. This prank occurred during the administration of Tech president Lyman Hall, the same strict disciplinarian that suspended the entire senior class of '01 for returning to class a day late from Christmas break, forcing them all to graduate late. On campus there was a common fear that, as one member of the class of '02 stated, 'we may all get sent home for this.'

When Anthoney confessed it was assumed that he would be expelled, but, when universal campus support was voiced for him, he was reprieved and forced to remove the white graffiti, pay for damage, and make a public apology to the Institute.

The minutes of the faculty meeting leave it plain to the reader that he was luck not to have paid the price the President Hall would have given him.

Although Tech students have, over the years, spent great amounts of time and taken great risks to deface the beloved symbol of our institute, Tech Tower will always stand for the spirit of Tech.

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Copyright © 1997 by Gregory S. Scherrer, Editor
and by the Student Publications Board