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A Natural Engineer

The storied history of MIT’s mascot

On January 17, 1914, members of the Technology Club of New York, an MIT alumni group, presented Institute president Richard Cockburn Maclaurin with two taxidermically mounted beavers and recommended that the rodent be adopted as the MIT mascot. Club member Lester D. Gardener, class of 1898, playfully recounted to the president how he and his cohorts had lighted on the idea.

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As the club members were preparing for their annual banquet, Gardener said, “Some one came to us at the club and asked us if Tech had a mascot.” The answer was no. “We first thought of the kangaroo,” Gardener said, “which like Tech goes forward by leaps and bounds….Then we considered the elephant. He is wise, patient, strong, hard working and like all men who graduate from Tech has a good tough hide.”

“But neither of these were American animals,” Gardener continued. “As you will see the beaver not only typifies the Tech man but his habits are peculiarly our own. Mr. Hornaday [in his 1906 book The American Natural History] says, ‘Of all the animals of the world, the beaver is noted for his engineering and mechanical skill and habits of industry. His habits are nocturnal, he does his best work in the dark.’”

Maclaurin accepted the club’s recommendation, and in 1921 the Tech reported, “today the distinguishing mark of an Institute man in a gathering of men of all colleges is the grey beaver hat that he invariably wears on such occasions.”

Beaver-fur hats and their silk imitations have long since fallen out of style, as has the appellation “Tech man.” But nearly 100 years later, the beaver mascot remains the most popular MIT symbol among students. The MIT class ring has featured a beaver on its bezel since it was introduced in 1929, and each class adds its own symbols to what’s now known as the brass rat. The beaver on the 2005 ring crushes eight ivy leaves; a pile of sticks in front of him looks like a jumble of numbers; and the diploma he holds is wrapped around a screw, to symbolize the hard work that goes into earning an MIT degree. The “IHTFP” on the sidewalk in front of the beaver is open to interpretation: “I hate this [expletive] place” or “I have truly found paradise.”

Known as Chipper, Bucky, and Eager over the years, MIT’s beaver is now usually called Tim (which is sometimes spelled .T.I.M). The first MIT mascot costume debuted in 1977. It had large doe eyes and a floppy bow tie but featured no emblems specific to MIT. By 1999, the costume, which was said by wearers to be like a personal sauna, was threadbare. Seniors Solar Olugebefola and Jessica Wu were named joint winners of a contest to help design a replacement after submitting similar proposals. The new Tim, who first appeared at the Johnson Games in April 2000, has shiny brown fur and sports an “MIT” vest over his huge reinforced belly. He has a perky, PVC-enforced zip-off tail and padded paws. But for those who wear the costume, perhaps its best features are ones spectators won’t notice – an inner vest loaded with ice packs and a fan inside the top of the head.

Tim makes regular appearances on campus at events such as orientation, barbecues, awards ceremonies, and reunions. (MIT student groups can rent the Tim costume for $25; departments are charged $50.) He has also been known to participate in hacks, such as his 1999 Groundhog Day protest, during which he distributed free cake to students and, in a carved statement, accused Punxsutawney Phil of being blind. In 2002 he stood on John Harvard’s statue in Harvard Yard, singing “The Engineer’s Drinking Song.” Tim has ventured off campus on official business just once – to visit Yale for President Hockfield’s going-away party.

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