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tbook : traditions : the "t"

President Harrison receives the 'T'
Outgoing President Harrison receives the "T" from the Tech student body.  

Perhaps the most famous of Tech's landmarks is the Tech Tower, home of the 'T.' It put the 'T' in T-book, once associated us with the name "Golden Tornadoes," and has stood as a figure in the campus consciousness. Actually, there are 4 letters (TECH), five feet tall and white and gold, on each side of the tower, but it's the 'T' on the side facing I-75 that has a worldwide reputation. As long as the letters have been up (most of the century), students have sought fame and glory in stealing them and leaving the ones they steal for the college president to find.

The class of 1922, deciding during their freshman year that their contribution to the school should include a symbol that would "light the spirit of Tech to the four points of the compass," gave the tower its first TECH signs. The gold and white painted, wooden signs placed on alternating sides of the tower. Plans for today's standard metal frame letters and neon lights were introduced in 1949. The renovation fell around the Christmas holidays so for the only time in its history the gold and white letters were replaced with green and red ones.

Generally, in the past thieving the 'T' never brought major charges on students. The 'T' would come down, be found, go back up, and life would continue. Why shouldn't this tradition have an easy policy? The entire alumni body can remember their own days at Tech, most of them having dreamed of, or succeeded in, stealing it and going down in history. They know what current students are doing, and they respect, or at least sympathize with the effort. As long as no major damages occurred, the school had no choice but to permit the wishes of the alumni.

However, over the years, security on the 'T' has improved to the point where the letter is connected to a computer at Tech police headquarters on Hemphill Avenue. There are spot welds, fiber optic cables, greased drain pipes, motion sensors, and very patient policemen to contend with. It is, perhaps, one of the most secure objects in the city, including the Federal Reserve Bank. For that reason, recent years have seen a dearth in stealing attempts in general, let alone successful thefts. That's not to say plans for it's taking don't circulate in the campus underground.Full schematics of the tower can be found, with layouts and descriptions of the security system, if one knows where to look....

In the fall of 1997, one group did manage to climb the tower, get the 'T' off the building, and almost get away with it, except for an anonymous tip to the campus police of the attack. How did these mission impossible hopefuls get past our high-tech security? Bolt cutters and repelling, plain, fast, and simple. When caught, these students had to pay for the costs of the tower's repair - including the costs of previous failed attempts to remove the 'T' from the tower.

Nevertheless, you won't find a student on campus without their own plan for stealing it again. The 'T' is our symbol, and will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of students for years to come. Remember that the tradition started before anyone at this school (student or faculty) was alive, and it is as strong as ever.

It is a much bigger deal now than it used to be and the price for getting caught is more severe than in the past. Don't expect just a slap on the wrist. But then, there's nothing worth doing that doesn't have a certain amount of risk involved.

During the spring quarter of 1999, the 'T' on the north side of the tower was taken. The students in charge of this heist then decided to take the 'T' on a trip of the US. In the Technique, there was a letter signed by George P. Burdell that indicated a low level of security on the top of Tech Tower. There was also a picture of the 'T' in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia.

FYI -- If you want to get the tradition right, here's how to go about doing it:

Take the 'T' on the side facing the highway. If that's already gone, remove the T to the left and work around. When the T's are gone (it has happened), start taking the H's in the same manner. Then go for the E's, and finally the C's. To our knowledge, all of the letters have never been down at once, so that's something for entering freshmen to consider.

Once stolen, put the letter in a public location easily accessible to the President of the Institute (Clough currently).

-- Kyle Kessler, editor

Disclaimer: The act of stealing the T is dangerous. Students who attempt to steal the 'T' will face administrative punishment as well as possible criminal punishment. Please, do not try this at home.