â€œSailing dinghies down the Charles, M.I.T. men sometimes convey an impression of leisurely living,â€ imparted the May 7, 1956 issue of LIFE in a story headlined â€œAmidst Grinding Work, Some Funâ€. â€œBut in their fraternities and their rooms on campus, these same men line the walls with banners proclaiming, â€˜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.â€
The magazine seemed at pains to point out that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (est. 1861), which other college men might accuse of producing â€œmilquetoastsâ€, 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 Answerâ€ focused on recruitment strategies and their commitment to turning out more and better engineers and scientists that the pesky Reds.
Elsewhere LIFE noted, â€œM.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.â€ And though not a member of the Ivy League – in addition to being essentially a vocational school, unlike the older Ivies M.I.T. â€œcatered more to middle-class families, and depended more on tuition than on endowments or grants for its fundingâ€ – 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”
This is so great, thanks for posting
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.
Imagine that they read books and wrote on paper! How fantastic!
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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