Building a Better M.I.T. Man, 1956

“Sailing dinghies down the Charles, M.I.T. men sometimes convey an impression of leisurely living,” imparted the May 7, 1956 issue of LIFE in a story headlined “Amidst Grinding Work, Some Fun”. “But in their fraternities and their rooms on campus, these same men line the walls with banners proclaiming, ‘Tech is Hell.’ Boasting they have the toughest regimen of any U.S. campus, they point out that they average 55 hours a week in class and laboratories, nearly double that of their liberal arts counterparts at Harvard.”

The magazine seemed at pains to point out that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (est. 1861), which other college men might accuse of producing “milquetoasts”, was in fact doing our country an essential service in a time when the Soviets seemed to be outpacing us in the realm of science. Another article titled “The Need for Better Scientists and M.I.T.’s Answer” focused on recruitment strategies and their commitment to turning out more and better engineers and scientists that the pesky Reds.



Elsewhere LIFE noted, “M.I.T. has neither a college yell nor a varsity football team, but it encourages college-wide sports and the students manage to bring fierce competitive skills to such pastimes as chess, debating and croquet.” And though not a member of the Ivy League – in addition to being essentially a vocational school, unlike the older Ivies M.I.T. “catered more to middle-class families, and depended more on tuition than on endowments or grants for its funding” – there was still plenty of preppy style in evidence, though of the nerdier variety. The guy in the Gatsby cap and university scarf though – dashing as all get-out, and no doubt a fiend with the croquet mallet.








Comments on “Building a Better M.I.T. Man, 1956

    DCF on August 11, 2015 9:24 AM:

    This is so great, thanks for posting

    Invictus on August 11, 2015 2:21 PM:

    It’s rare for those who didn’t live through it to get an accurate glimpse of the past in such a complete way. Nice work.

    Andrew on August 18, 2015 9:38 AM:

    Imagine that they read books and wrote on paper! How fantastic!

    doug on August 18, 2015 9:08 PM:

    Right up until the middle ’70s, anyone in college pursuing a scientific or Engineering degree had a similar experience-classes where the prof walked in and immediately started writing formulae and equations on the blackboard, time-consuming labs, and long evenings studying at the library. Every calculation you made was with a slide rule-all your exams had a table of Logs stapled to them, along with a blank sheet for “scratch paper”. It’s hard to overemphasize how quickly the first hand calculators just blew away all the slide rules.

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