RPI Traditions

From Not the Rensselaer Wiki
(Redirected from RPI traditions)
Jump to: navigation, search

Template:Userspace draft

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has a long history of traditions since its founding in 1824. These include the background of architecture, fun facts about RPI, athletics, special events, Greek life, RPI heroes, honor societies, age-old myths, student clubs, fun facts about the school, and facts about the Troy community. These facts and traditions have been compiled by the Traditions Committee of the Red & White Student Association, with help from the Rensselaer Archives and Special Collections Department.


Special Events

Big Red Freakout!

Black Friday

Calculus Cremation

The calculus cremation was a tradition started in 1865. The dreaded calculus course was taken by a class as a unit and the cremation marked the end of the semester. In January, following the end of the calculus course, the students would publish an obituary describing the time and the place the cremation. These obituaries were often very detailed and elaborate with students making up stories about “Bowser Calculus the German Spy” or “His Majesty King Bowser Calculus.” The “mourners” would dress in black or white hooded cloaks and march to the burning site carrying lit torches and coffins of calculus books. This ritual was a celebration of the ending of the horror that was calculus class.

Cane Rush

The Cane Rush first came to RPI in 1874. This event took place during the first week of the school year, and served to initiate freshmen into college life. It was preceded by a fire inning baseball game: sophomores versus freshman. After the game, all members took their shirts off and greased their bodies with Vaseline and axle grease to make themselves hard to catch by the other team. The starting position consisted of two men from each class year holding onto a hickory cane while the rest of the class members formed two lines 50 yards away on either side. The shot of a piston started the battle and everyone rushed to the cane. The game only lasted 7 minutes and the team with the most hands touching the cane at this time was declared the winner. The winning team carved their class year into the cane. If the freshman won, they earned the right to carry canes before Presidents Day. This date was later pushed up to the Parade during the first home football game. As the years went on, the sophomores began to focus more on pulling the freshman’s pants down than getting a hand on the cane. In 1918 students began to strip down entirely at the beginning of the game and the event was thereby known as the Grease Rush.

Cane Rush Rules: Section 1. There shall be an annual cane rush between the Sophomore and Freshman Classes on the first convenient Saturday of the first term.

Section 2. The Rush shall be held immediately after a five-inning baseball game between the Sophomore and Freshman Classes at a place designated by the Grand Marshal. The Grand Marshal shall notify the presidents of the Sophomore and Freshman Classes of the time and place of the rush at least twenty-four hours before the rush is called.

Section 3. The Grand Marshal shall decide the rush and announce publicly the number of hands on the cane.

Section 4. The cane shall be the traditional cane rush stick and shall be held by four men, two from each class. The remainder of the opposing classes shall line up on opposite sides of the cane each at a distance of fifty yards from it. At a signal from the referee the classes shall rush for possession of the cane. At the end of seven minutes the hands on the cane shall be counted, a thumb and finger being counted as a hand. The class having the most hands on the cane shall be declared the winner.

Each contestant shall enter the rush with at least a pair of trousers and soft soled shoes.

Section 5. The members of the winning class shall be allowed to carry canes in the Institute Parade on the day of the first home football game. The members of the other classes shall not carry canes on that day.

Flag Rush

The winning team of the Cane Rush was allowed to put their class year on a flag that was carried in the institute parade. The losing team would try to steal that flag before the parade began. This caused the inspiration for the Flag Rush which became a separate event of capture the flag. The event took place on a school day and lasted from noon to 8:00 pm. The flag had to remain within 3 miles of the Carnegie building at all times. In 1904 the freshman class put their flag on a tugboat in the Hudson River and guarded it by spraying the sophomores with a hose. After this, a rule was added that the flag bust be “stationary, conspicuous, and accessible.” If the freshman were able to defend their flag for the allotted time, they were declared the winners. In 1914 the freshman put their flag on top of a gatehouse tower in the Watervliet Reservoir. Many students fell from ladders in an attempt to reach the flag and one almost drowned. This caused the Flag Rush to be abolished after 1916. A similar event was instated in the 1950s during Freshman Week and was called the Banner Rush.

Flag Rush Rules: Section 1. The flag rush must begin on a scholastic day of the first term between noon and 8:00 p.m.

Section 2. The rush shall be held at some place exterior to the boundary of Institute property and within three miles of the Carnegie building.

Section 3. Upon the request of the Freshman class through some representative, the Grand Marshal shall appoint a referee from the Senior class. The identity of this referee shall only be disclosed to the above mentioned representative of the Freshman class and the referee so chosen.

Section 4. The Freshmen may locate the flag at any place within boundaries mentioned in Article IV, Section 2 provided that the flag be stationary, conspicuous and accessible from the time of posting of the notice until the completion of the rush. All means for detection of the location of the flag are accorded to the Sophomores. The word stationary shall be interpreted as meaning immovable with respect to the earth, boats or vehicles of any kind not being considered stationary under any circumstances.

1913 TransitSection 5. The flag shall be made of white cloth, not less than twelve inches by eighteen inches in size and shall have the class year painted conspicuously upon it. The use of dummy flags is prohibited, the Freshmen being allowed to post one flag only. Violation of this rule shall cause the rush to be forfeited to the Sophomores.

Section 6. After the referee has seen the flag in place, the Freshmen class through their representative accompanied by a Junior appointed by the referee shall post a notice stating the challenge to the Sophomores as provided for in Article IV,

Section 7. The time of posting of the notice shall be reported by the Junior above mentioned to the referee and shall be the time of commencement of the rush and must be within the limits provided for in Article IV, Section I.

Section 8. The notice shall be on white paper not less than four inches by five inches in size, and shall be posted on the Sophomore bulletin board of the Carnegie if the west door of said building is unlocked, otherwise it may be posted on said door.

Section 9. If the Freshmen maintain the flag in accordance with the foregoing rules for twenty-three hours from the time of posting the notice they shall be declared the winners, otherwise the Sophomore shall be declared the winners.

GM Week

The Grand Marshal position was first created in 1865 to honor Albert M. Harper for his dedication to the school, service to the country, and wisdom beyond his years. Harper first entered RPI as class of 1864; however, he took a leave from school to enter in the Civil War. After much success in the army, he decided to return to school as a member of the class of 1866. The students respected and admired Harper, giving him the honor of the first Grand Marshal of RPI. The GM was regarded as the leader of the entire student body and had jurisdiction over all events. The GM fostered a sense of school spirit and was a member of all union committees.

The GM and the President of the Union were elected on a date in the spring semester chosen by the Student Council. Potential candidates needed a formal nomination including at least 25 signatures submitted ten days prior to elections. The concept of having parties was endorsed but there were frequent changes in names and affiliations. In 1890 a student union was formed and the position of President of the Union was viewed as the head of the student body. There seemed no need for the position of GM so it was abolished from 1890-1893. The position was reinstated to promote school spirit.

The election of GM and PU became a celebratory time. On the evening of elections, after the freshman had cleaned up all the campaign posters, students gathered at the Approach for the announcement of the election results. The new GM was given a top hat, the symbol of office, and the reveal was followed by a parade through Troy. During the parade the freshmen wore nightshirts while the upperclassmen made an attempt to strip them of their clothes. This event was an initiation into their upcoming sophomore year. The celebration culminated on North Field with refreshments and prizes. This celebratory night became a week full of activities and gatherings as the years passed.

Greek Rush

Hill Rush

The Hill Rush was a tradition that first started in 1911. It was very short lived as it only lasted until 1915. The Rush was held the evening after the Cane Rush and was an event of sophomores and juniors versus freshman. It took place on Grand Street between 7th and 8th Streets after a short parade. The freshman waited on the corner as the upperclassmen took their places on the hill. At the start signal the freshman made their way up the slippery surface of sand and mud. During the 20 minutes the game took place, the upperclassman proceeded to hinder their process any way they could. If at the end of the allotted time, more than 20% of the freshman class made it up the hill, they were declared the winners. This Rush may have been related to the Stair Rush which took place in earlier years.

Hill Rush Rules: Section 1. A hill rush shall be held during the evening after the cane rush in accordance with the following rules.

Section 2. The Rush shall take place on Grand Street between Seventh and Eighth streets.

Section 3. At 8:00 p.m. the Seniors, Juniors and Freshmen shall leave the gymnasium, marching through Seventh Street to Grand Street. The Freshmen shall wait at the corner of Grand and Seventh streets until the Seniors and Juniors have taken their places along the curb and the street is clear. At a signal from the Referee after the street has been cleared the Freshmen shall start up the hill. The Sophomores may attack them any time after the head of the Freshmen line shall have reached the east line of Institute alley. The Sophomores shall not be permitted East of the east curb of Eighth Street. The rush shall continue twenty minutes from the time the Referee gives the signal to the Freshmen to start up the hill. If at the end of that time one-fifth or more of the Freshmen who were in line at the time the Referee gave the signal to start, have reported to the Referee or his representative on the east sidewalk of Eighth street at the head of Grand Street, the Freshmen shall be declared the winners, otherwise the Sophomore shall be declared the winners.

Section 4. No ropes, chains or similar articles shall be used in this rush by either class.

Section 5. Any Freshmen who reports to the Referee or his representative a second time or who has not come up Grand Street from Seventh street between curb lines during the progress of the rush shall cause ten men to be subtracted from the number who have reported to the Referee.

Hockey Line

NRB/Freshmen Week

In order to introduce the incoming RPI students, the sophomores initiated the freshman in various events throughout the first week of school. After freshman orientation the students attended a freshman camp. This camp was originally held at Burden Lake but was moved to Silver Bay on Lake George in later years. There were many activities, sports, songs, and cheers at camp. This camping tradition took place from 1936 to 1955 when it was moved back to campus due to the increase in size of the incoming class. In 2001, the program called Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond (NRB) brought students back off campus for overnight trips.

The Frosh Smoker was the freshman week kickoff event. This gave freshman the chance to mingle with faculty and upperclassmen with entertainment and cigarettes provided. During this celebration the freshman handbook was distributed and the freshman learned RPI songs. Other events taking place during the week included the baseball game, tug of war, grease rush, hill rush, banner rush, and march to Sage. The week ended with the Phalanx Dance.

Reunion and Homecoming

Rensselaer Dances

Frosh Fling

The Frosh Fling was started by the class of 1943 as a replacement for the annual banquet. The first frosh fling occurred in 1940 after Grand Marshall Elections. Although named the frosh fling, the informal event was open to the entire campus.

Interfraternity Ball

This ball put on by the Interfraternity Council (IFC) was the highlight of all social events for Greek Life. Held in October, it was the biggest dance of the fall semester. In the 1950s the Ball was named the Harvest Moon Ball because it was held in October, usually after a home football game. Fraternities held booths for the event, a queen was elected and crowned, and the dance was then followed by fraternity parties lasting the night.

Snowflake Saturnalia

The Snowflake Saturnalia was the main event during a winter festival tradition which began in 1949. It was held on campus during a weekend in February and included many winter themed events. The Junior class presented the Snowflake Saturnalia. At the dance, a queen and court were crowned to reign over the weekend events. These events included a snow sculpture contest, a ski meet, a hockey game, plays, concerts, movies, and fraternity parties. The weekend gained popularity until the 1970s when it died out.

Junior Prom

The Junior Prom was established by the class of 1919 and became known as the biggest social event of the year for the junior class. The prom was organized by a committee and held in December. The dress was formal and a popular band was hired for entertainment. Students attending voted for a queen and court of the dance.

RPI Union Hops

These small “Hops” first started in 1932 and were held frequently throughout the school year. These dances took place in the old Union Clubhouse, the ’87 Gym, or the 15th St Lounge and often followed football and basketball games. The Hops were organized by a committee consisting of members from each class.

Phalanx Dance

This dance took place at the end of freshman week in September and served to introduce the new students to girls from the nearby girl’s colleges. The Phalanx Dance was held in the ‘87 Gym and campus groups like “The Campus Serenaders” provided the entertainment. The Members of phalanx set up blind dates for the 450 freshman based on height and age. This event was an introduction to RPI social life and survived even after other freshmen week events were abolished.

Sophomore Soiree

The Sophomore Soiree, a dance that originated as the Sophomore Banquet, was first held on April 24, 1908. The Soiree was initially held at the Ten Eyck Hotel in Albany, but eventually moved to locations on campus including the Pittsburg Building, the Armory, and the Houston Field House. The dance was considered the largest social event of the year. Bands were hired to provide the entertainment and a Soiree queen was crowned each year. The Interfraternity council took over the planning of the event in the 1960s.

Sleigh Rush

This tradition was again an event between the sophomores and freshman. Around Christmas, the freshman class took a sleigh ride to Albany for a class dinner. The sophomores attempted to beat them to Albany to eat the dinner set out. The freshman posted a notice that they were going to have their Albany Dinner to let the sophomores know that the rush had begun. The sophomores barricaded roads, build bonfires, and chased the freshman sleigh in order to halt the trip. If the sophomores ever caught up, they would attempt to take position of the sleigh. In this scuffle the sleigh was often destroyed.

Sleigh Rush Rules: 1. The freshmen most post a notice, informing the "sophs" that they are going to have their supper and ride, and they must start within forty-eight hours after the notice is posted.

2. They must leave Troy and return to Troy in their own sleigh.

Study Days @ the Heffner Alumni House

Victorian Stroll

Winter Carnival

White Out

Fun Facts

"Ah Me My Poor Freshie"


Alma Mater

Amos Eaton Chair

Class Banners

Class Flags

Class Gift

Class Ring

Rensselaer Flag

The first flag of the Institute was designed by Palmer C. Ricketts a few years after the seal was created, around 1910. He described it as: “ a rectangle divided by a diagonal into two triangles, one cherry and one white, with the letters R.P.I. crossing the diagonal, the parts of the letters on the white background being cherry and the parts of the cherry background being white.” Years later, Palmer Ricketts changed the original flag to white with a red Institute seal and red fringe.

The current flag was created in conjunction with the Class of ’94 class gift. Designs were first drafted in 1993, most of them much simpler than the current flag. After talking with the President, the coat of arms began to be included in the drafts in late 1993-1994. The final artwork for the flag was created by Marty Satalino of Envision Digital Design (in Troy) and completed on April 25, 1994. The exact colors used (using the Pantone Matching System) are PMS codes 116 gold, 185 red, 300 blue, and a black overprint.

The design is based on the coat of arms of Kiliaen Van Rensselaer, the first emblem of the Institute, and the current Institute logotype. The flag is divided into four quadrants, the upper left quadrant red and the rest white:

  • In the red upper left quadrant, there is the cross Moline, the heraldic sign of the Van Rensselaers. It is modeled after the cross in the stained-glass window depiction and similarly placed on a red background.
  • In the lower left quadrant, the three coronets are the arms of the Van Wenckum family (family of Kiliaen’s paternal grandmother)
  • In the upper right corner, the arms are those of Kiliaen’s mother, Maria Pafraet. The stars were added at a later time, originally six-pointed as depicted in the current flag, but at one point they were changed to five-pointed stars.
  • In the lower right corner, there are the chevrons, the symbol of the family of Kiliaen’s maternal grandmother.

The flag is in four colors (red, black, blue, and gold), like the original Institute Seal in the archives. The current flag was first flown when it was raised in front of the Houston Field House at the 188th commencement exercises on May 20, 1994, and now flies with the American and New York State flags in front of the Student Union building.

Freshman Beanie

GM Week Mugs

Hockey Chants

"Knowledge and Thoroughness"


RPI Bullet

The RPI Bullet was created in the Fall of 1967. The RPI President wanted something simple that people could instantly recognized in order to promote RPI in the increasingly competitive marketplace. It would also be used to identify RPI on-campus maintenance vehicles, trash containers, signs, and other items not deemed appropriate for the official RPI seal with the coat of arms. The red circle surround the RPI logotype was designed to be used in other logos for campus groups, functions, and organizations to provide a thread of continuity, similar to the concept of European traffic signs. In the spring of 1968, the Board of Trustees approved the use of the logotype (“Bullet”) in all forms of university communication.

Rensselaer Identity Symbol

In October 1987, a pamphlet was published outlining the specifications and uses of the standard Rensselaer logotype used for publications. First impressions of the Institute are often formed through printed materials such as letters, brochures, catalogs, and posters, and Rensselaer wanted something to leave a good impression immediately. Therefore, they wanted Rensselaer’s visual printed materials to project a clean, consistent, and easily remembered image that reflects the character of Rensselaer. The logotype consists of the word Rensselaer underlined by a bar, with the formal seal above the word. It has since evolved to be the word Rensselaer with the formal seal on the left side of the word.


Two typefaces are standard for Rensselaer printed material, Bodoni and Century Oldstyle. Bodoni Book is used for “Rensselaer” in the logotype, while Century Oldstyle was chosen as the text typeface for RPI publications because of its clarity and compatibility with Bodoni. Both typefaces are modern interpretation of timeless and traditional typefaces, reinforcing the history of Rensselaer with a contemporary spin.


Meanest Man on Campus

Mr. and Mrs. RPI

Rensselaer Hall of Fame

School Colors

Cherry and White are the official school colors adopted by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1904, although there is some mystery to how they came about. As student activity and a growing sense of school spirit and solidarity came about during the middle of the 19th century, students became more interested in school emblems and colors. By 1887, cherry had somehow become the color of the Institute, comparably to other shades of red at well-known schools such as Harvard University, Rutgers University, Stevens Institute of Technology, and Boston Tech (now known as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Red became more prominent throughout campus, but many students called for more than a single color - wearing a solid red blazer or football uniform was a bit obnoxious. In 1890 when the Student Union was formed and student interest in athletics increased, the editor of The Rensselaer Polytechnic wrote a piece commenting on the cherry color. He said that although cherry had been the customary color for years, most people didn't know exactly what color it was. The Union took it upon themselves to state exactly what color it was and to display it in the '87 gym.

On March 21st, 1891, the editor wrote to revive the old custom of wearing a school pin instead of class pins and class colors. This was in order to instill in the students a sense of pride in the entire school, not merely their class, and to break down the barriers that existed between the classes. He also proposed that only official members of school teams be allowed to wear an 'R' or 'R.P.I.' on their uniforms. On June 27th of 1891, a student mass meeting was held and a three man committee was selected to design the school pin. They were given instructions to incorporate the cherry color, but also had permission to combine it with white. Thus, at a mass student meeting, the matching of cherry and white occurred. It was not until 1904, however, when the school colors were incorporated into the seal, that they were officially adopted by the Institute.<ref>http://www.lib.rpi.edu/dept/library/html/Archives/</ref>

School Cheer

Cherry and White also was shouted as a school cheer in the past:

Cherry and White.

Fight! Fight!

Cherry and White.

Fight! Fight!

Cherry and White.


(Yelled alternately by different sections of the crowd in the bleachers.) <ref>http://www.stutt.net/rpi/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=81:cherry-and-white&catid=37:cheers&Itemid=56</ref>

Seal/Coat of Arms

The first seal of the Institute was by R.G. Sturgis, a Boston architect, in 1904. It was at the special request of President Palmer C. Ricketts, in response to inquiries by students and Institute authorities. They wanted a decoration symbolic of Rensselaer, so as to decorate the rooms of various clubs and organizations.

Acknowledged specialists in the field of heraldry assisted in the creation of the seal. After the design was completed, Charles H. Andres (Class of 1907, and an assistant on the teaching staff) made a hand drawing of it. It included two concentric circles surrounding the shield, encompassing the name of the Institute and the year it was founded, 1824.

Across the top of the shield is the coat of arms of Kiliaen van Rensselaer (in honor of Stephen van Rensselaer, the founder of the Institute), squeezed vertically:

  • The upper left quadrant represents the cross moline, the heraldic sign of the van Rensselaers. It is the most important part of the shield because it represents the male part of the family and is carried on from one generation to the next. The cross moline is thought to have originated during the Crusades, but this has not been proven. The van Rensselaers were not of noble origin, and their coat of arms reflects this – they represent the arms of a prosperous family of traders, more likely to select figures and ensigns for their beauty and color instead of their heraldic significance in keeping with the customs of the day.
  • The lower left quadrant contains three coronets, the arms of the van Wenckum family, prominent in the Dutch settlement of Amsterdam. This was inserted because of the rules of heraldry – Kiliaen’s paternal grandmother was a van Wenckum.
  • The upper right quadrant has the arms of Kiliaen’s mother, Maria Pafraet. The stars were added at a later time, originally six-pointed as depicted in the current seal, but at one point previously they were five-pointed stars.
  • The lower right quadrant contains the arms of the patroon’s maternal grandmother, three chevrons.

Below the shield are three vertical strips of the Institute’s colors, cherry and white. At the time it was created, civil engineering was the only engineering program available, and the surveyor’s target was placed on the middle white strip. This was also in honor of the fact that the first Civil Engineering degrees in the English speaking world were awarded by Rensselaer in 1835. A scroll was placed at the bottom of the seal with the words “Knowledge and Thoroughness,” chosen by the director (Dr. Palmer C. Ricketts) because the words seemed to cover two characteristics developed by the Institute course.

In the early 1900s, a graduate of Buffalo, J.J. Albright, requested a crest to decorate a room for a club in Buffalo. To satisfy this desire, two concentric circles were put around the shield, with the words “Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824” placed between them. In 1905, enameled pins were made of the shield, and were worn by graduates only – undergraduates were not allowed to wear them. The shield has been used with and without rings over the years in various forms. For distribution to clubs, scientific associations, and secondary schools in the early 20th century, it was made in bronze on a wooden background.

The seal represents the Office of the President and the Board of Trustees, along with the tradition and stability of the university. The use of the seal is supposed to be restricted to purposes that reflect the dignity associated with those offices and tradition. In the past it was reserved for those who stood the brunt of four years of training, who worked hard to earn their diploma. Current students were allowed to use the rod and target, but only alumni were permitted to use the full emblem. In modern times, though, the seal is displayed prominently across campus and beyond.

The Fire of 1904

Top Hat and Derby


Today, RPI has 23 varsity sports, 50 intramural and club sports, and a myriad of organizations that are considered sports-related. There are 12 men's and 11 women's varsity teams. Men's and women's ice hockey are Division 1 sports, and the others participate in Division 3. The hockey teams are members of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC Hockey). The remaining sports play their games in the Liberty League.

Battle for the Dutchman's Shoes

RPI plays in two different annual trophy games. Since 1950, the Engineers have played an annual football game against the Union College Dutchmen. The winner of the game receives the Dutchman's Shoes trophy. With this comes a year of bragging rights. Union won the first game in 1950, and RPI won the most recent one in 2010. Union is ahead in the all-time series 45-16.

East Campus Athletic Village

In 2007, the construction of a new sports facility, the East Campus Athletic Village, began with high hopes. The official unveiling of the facility was on October 3, 2009. This project cost roughly $92 million dollars, and comes in two phases. Phase 1 consisted of a multipurpose stadium with a turf field that has seating for 5,200 people. Also, a 1,200 seat basketball arena was installed as well. The last part of the phase was a 4,800 square foot strength and conditioning center. This includes a sports medicine area, meeting rooms, a Hall of Fame, a pro shop, and a cafe. Phase 2 will include an indoor pool, outdoor and indoor tennis courts, and an indoor track. Currently, this is still in the planning phase.

Lacrosse History

Ned Harkness

Ned Harkness is the founding father of lacrosse at RPI. He was also a successful hockey coach. He was so influential to the school that Harkness Field was named in his honor. He was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame in 1982.

Professional Athletes from RPI

Puckman/Mascot History

Student Activities

Executive Board

Glee Clubs

Red & White Student Organization

Story of Foundation

Student Publications

The Rensselaer Polytechnic

The Transit

The Pup

The Bachelor

Rensselaer Engineer

The Players



Honor Societies

Through the years, RPI has established many long-standing honor societies with the purpose of reward students, faculty, and staff members who provide outstanding service to Rensselaer community. While many of these honor societies have faded with time, some remain persistant at Rensselaer since their induction a century ago.

Bachelors of Rensselaer

Bachelors of Rensselaer was a Rensselaer honor society from 1919 until ____.

Each year, a maximum of ten men from the sophomore class were elected to B.O.R., or Bachelors of Rensselaer, by junior and senior members. Election into B.O.R. was based on Athletic achievement during the freshman year. In addition, one man, designated as the outstanding athlete of the class, receives an engraved cup and becomes the honored Bachelor of Rensselaer. Other members receive smaller engraved cups and white B.O.R. caps.

BOR, along with White Key, acted as host for visiting athletic teams and other school representatives. BOR also assisted Phalanx and White Key in organizing and administering many other school functions, such as the annual Phalanx Dance.

Chi Epsilon (Civil Engineering)

Chi Epsilon is a Civil Engineering Honor Society which was established in December 1941 by Prof. Emil Praeger. Rensselaer’s establishment is the seventeenth of its kind.


In 1912, Edward Dion and the Student Council organized a society to recognize those Rensselaer students who have distinguished themselves among their peers in the areas of leadership, service, and devotion to the alma mater. This society, Phalanx, became the fellowship of those most active in student activities.<ref>Template:Cite web</ref> To be "tapped" into Phalanx is the highest honor that an RPI student can attain. Today, the honor of being tapped is given to both juniors and seniors.

Every spring, a colorful ceremony called "Tap Day" is arranged to induct its new members into the organization. During this event, the current members choose their successors from among the junior class. The ceremony was once performed at the end of a sporting event, typically during Soiree Weekend. A hollow square of Phalanx members would march out onto the field and one by one the members would leave the square and proceed into the grandstand to tap the new members into Phalanx.

The purpose of the Phalanx leadership honor society ha s changed over its century of existence. Past responsibilities include the supervision of school elections, acting as the Grand Marshall’s cabinet and advising him and other student groups on current problems, and sponsoring of the annual Phalanx Dance. Currently the society's purpose is to select the following year's membership into Phalanx, the White Key junior leadership honor society, and Who's Who as well as the faculty winner of the Darrin Award.

R-Club (Athletics)

The R club was founded in 1917. Membership is awarded to those who have distinguished themselves in athletics and have won a varsity letter. The club’s main functions are to encourage various athletic activities at Rensselaer and to assist Phalanx and White Key with the operation of Freshman Week.

Tau Beta Pi (Engineering)

Tau Beta Pi is a national organization which recognizes outstanding scholars in the field of engineering. The Rensselaer chapter, New York Gamma, was founded in 1908. Members are chosen from the upper one fifth of the senior class and the upper one eighth of the second semester junior class.

White Key

The crimson “R” crossed diagonally by a white key is well known on campus as the symbol for the sophomore honorary White Key.

Election into White Key is considered the highest honor which a sophomore can attain. A maximum of ten men and women are elected each fall by Phalanx on the basis of leadership, school spirit, scholarship, and extracurricular activities. The only stipulation is that no candidate may have received freshman numerals in more than one sport.

Founded in 1937, the primary function of White Key is to welcome visiting athletic teams and act as their hosts during their stay at Rensselaer. White Key is assisted in this activity by BOR, the campus athletic honorary. In addition to welcoming visiting school representatives, White Key assists Phalanx in the planning and supervision of many school activities, such as elections.

Who's Who

Who’s Who is a national organization whose purpose is to honor exceptional students from colleges and universities throughout the country. Men and women from Rensselaer are nominated for the organization by a student committee under the direction of the Student Union on the basis of service and personal characteristics. Members of the organization are listed in the current edition of “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities” and receive a certificate of membership. Members are also entitled to make use of the Who’s Who placement service.


Is West Hall Haunted?

Verdict: ?

Perhaps the most well-known inhabitant of RPI is the ghost of West Hall (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute). Nurse Betsy cared for the patients in the psychiatric ward of the old Troy Hospital, which was purchased by RPI in 1952 and renamed West Hall. She was very musically talented and often played the piano to calm the screams and whining of her patients. She was very well known in the hospital, serving as a nurse until her tragic and unfortunate death. As legend goes, there was a fire in the psychiatric ward when Betsy was working. In her heroism, she attempted to save the lives of her patients. Unfortunately, she and many of her patients were not able to escape the flames and died entrapped in the psychiatric ward where legend has it they remain to this day. Many times late at night you can hear the sounds of Nurse Betsy’s footsteps as she walks from room to room checking in on her patients. Some have even heard her patients screaming or whining, doors flying shut, loud thumping noises and if you listen closely…the faint sound of piano coming from the psychiatric ward in the basement of the old Troy Hospital.<ref>(Winter 2004: West Hall Revival, 2004)</ref>

The RPI Founders Met in Prison?

Verdict: Busted

Amos Eaton was indeed in prison from 1810 to 1815 for forgery, but he and Stephen van Rensselaer met in 1820 when van Rensselaer charged Eaton with surveying the land that would become the site of the Erie Canal.<ref>McAllister, E. M. (1941). Amos Eaton: Scientist and Educator 1776-1842. University of Pennsylvania Press.</ref> Van Rensselaer gave Eaton permission to lecture at towns along the way, which is what gave them both the idea of starting an institute of higher learning "for the application of science and technology to the common purposes of life." (from the founding letter, written by Stephen van Rensselaer on November 5, 1824).<ref>Helfrich, K. (2006). Amos Eaton.</ref>

What Were Russell Sage's Personal Views?

Verdict: Partly true

Many an Admissions tour has told prospective students that Russell Sage hated three things: (1) philanthropy, (2) higher education, and (3) women. While such extreme accusations are false, there were circumstances that would lead to such a conclusion. He was not adverse to loaning money under the assumption that it would be paid back in full, but he loathed the idea of philanthropy for its own sake. His education ended at grade school, and he was somewhat predisposed to mistrust the educated of his time. And, while there was little affection between him and his second wife, Margaret Olivia Slocum Sage the famous benefactor of RPI, there is no other evidence suggesting that he hated women in general.<ref>Sarnoff, P. (1965). Russell Sage: The Money King. New York City: Ivan Obolensky.</ref>

West Hall is Sliding Down the Hill?

Verdict: Busted

Well, West Hall isn't sliding any more than any structure built on a slope. According to Thomas Zimmie PhD, PE, D.GE, a professor in the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department of RPI, this kind of myth comes about worldwide. "No cables holding West Hall...There are slope problems on campus, but nothing that can't be fixed. Supposed to be haunted. But you'll have to ask someone in H&SS. Not my area. [see above myth]."

Will West Hall stand forever? Of course not, ultimately all slopes fail. But, according to a smiling Professor Zimmie, "It will probably take at least a few thousand years."

Greek Life

Template:See also

Fraternity Timeline

Interesting Stories

Our Campus

'87 Gymnasium

Academy Hall

Academy Hall, located at the corner of 15th Street and College Avenue, was acquired by Rensselaer in 1990 from the Troy School District. The conditions were $2.1 million for the building and 7 surrounding acres, as well as the provision that Troy Public School 14 did not have to be vacated until the new building was completed. In 1998, Academy Hall was named in honor of its proud history as the elementary school established in 1923.

The Armory

The Armory, AKA the Robison Gymnasium and Alumni Sports and Recreation Center, was dedicated on December 3, 1976. Rensselaer acquired the Armory from the New York Army National Guard in a swap. RPI owned all the property surrounding the Armory, and a bargain was struck that was beneficial to both parties. RPI built the National Guard a new armory in North Greenbush on a piece of the school's property - when completed in 1971, the tanks moved out. As was written in the TImes Record, “The move, expected to be completed today, leaves Troy without Army troops for the first time since Revolutionary days.”

Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies Building

Template:See also

Carnegie Hall

The Carnegie Building, dedicated on the same day as Walker Laboratory on June 12, 1907, was donated by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to replace the Main Building, which burned to the ground in 1904. The building was originally a drawing building and now houses the Cognitive Science department.

Darrin Communications Center (DCC)

East Campus Athletic Village (ECAV)


Template:See also

Folsom Library

Template:See also

Greene Building

After the expected number of enrolled students jumped by 500 in 1929, it was determined that RPI would need a new building. Under the administration of President Ricketts, Ralph Gulley was hired to head the new architecture department. As Gulley was already committed to a traveling fellowship at the time, it was decided that contractors Lawlor & Haase would work with Gulley on the design of the new building.

Ironically, the design process for what is today the home of the School of Architecture was plagued by disagreements and debate. In late August 1929, Gulley and Lawlor submitted separate plans for the Façade of the building. Not fully satisfied with either, President Ricketts asked Gulley to make improvements on his design which employed “maximizing the availability of natural light on the upper floors.” The building drawings were completed in February 1930 and permits were obtained two months later.

The five story building opened in fall of 1931 as the Greene Building. The namesake of the building is B. Franklin Greene, director of Rensselaer from 1847 to 1859. The building cost approximately $400,000; an additional $25,000 was spent on furnishings.

Among the most debated topics was the list of names of architects to be included on the frieze. President Ricketts (who insisted on names of American architects) ultimately asked Joseph Hudnut (Dean of Harvard’s School of Architecture) to offer the final opinion on the matter. Although Gulley had significant contributions to the design of the Greene Building, his name was not included on the frieze, as he was not licensed to work in New York. The fifteen names that are cut above the second story windows are:

  • Bulfinch
  • Burnham
  • Goodhue
  • Hooker
  • Hunt
  • Jefferson
  • Latrobe
  • McComb
  • McIntyre
  • McKim
  • Mills
  • Renwick
  • Richardson
  • Sullivan
  • Upjohn

Today, the Greene building is still the home of the School of Architecture. Colloquially, the building is referred to as “the light house.” In studio, students are frequently pulling all-nighters, so the lights are always on.

Heffner Alumni House

"Strong alumni make for a strong Rensselaer" was Samuel F. Heffner's motto when he spearheaded the New Century Campaign to bring Rensselaer into the future. The Heffner Alumni House began as a place to provide support for alumni, who in previous years had gone unappreciated, and turned into a hub of student-alumni interaction on campus today. Home of the Red & White student organization, ambassadors for Rensselaer, and the Rensselaer Alumni Association (RAA), the Heffner Alumni House reflects Mr. Heffner's vision for RPI and leadership through example. Completed and opened in 1989 it has a postmodern architectural style brings back traditional styles, which in previous years had been overrun by functionalism. The building is composed of brick, granite, and limestone with a copper roof that fits with the green-roof building in the core of campus. The project architect, Mr. J. Gregory Crozier, also a Rensselaer Alumnus class of 1961 and four year varsity hockey player, shrugged off suggestions that the large cement disk near the entrance, which now holds a institute crest, was intentionally reminiscent of a hockey puck. In 1990, the RAA started the Alumni Ice House tradition opening the Heffner Alumni House to hockey fans before and after home games.

Houston Field House

Many thanks must be offered to Rensselaer’s 11th President Dr. Livingston W. Houston ’13 for bringing the Houston Field House to the student body. The story goes that Dr. Houston and his family enjoyed a performance of figure skater Sonja Henie at Madison Square Garden so much that when Dr. Houston accepted the presidency he began looking for a way to bring that kind of entertainment to RPI and the Tri-city area. This dream was realized with the assistance of Uncle Sam in the form of Federal Emergency Educational Facilities Program which allowed universities to purchase “war surplus” buildings and relocate them to their campus to support the influx of veterans working towards degrees. The field house was a Navy warehouse in Rhode Island; disassembled, moved, and reassembled in 1946-1947 to the Troy campus. After much renovation the field was ready to open with its hockey rink, 5,500 fan seats, 4 basketball courts, acoustic shell, rifle range, and other amenities. To cool the hockey rink there is approximately 9 miles of brine filed wrought iron piping encased in concrete under the rink surface. The Houston Field House opened October 13, 1949 during Rensselaer’s 125th Anniversary Celebrations. The first hockey game played January 10, 1950 verses Middlebury. The field house is/was the home of many other campus focused events besides sports including a capella and orchestral concerts, graduations, and rock concerts. Some notable names include Dizzy Gillespie starting the annual concert tradition in 1960, followed by Duke Ellington, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, The Doors, Beach Boys, Van Morrison, Chicago (in an unprecedented 2 night show), Santana, Boston, Grateful Dead, Bon Jovi, Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Ozzy Osbourne/Korn.

Jonsson Engineering Center

On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Institute, the administration established a goal to promote “the construction of a new engineering center to replace buildings constructed 40 and more years earlier.” In February 1974, it was announced that plans for a new building to meet this goal were being pursued. Following a feasibility study conducted by Levatich (’55), Miller and Hoffman, two options to fulfill the goal were presented. The first option involved the demolition of the Troy Building; a new building would be constructed in place of the Troy Building and would connect Ricketts to Sage. The second option would have a new building constructed in an unoccupied location.

In the spring of 1974, the first option was chosen because it was less expensive. The Troy building would be destroyed in the summer of 1974. At the June 1974 meeting of the Board of Trustees, the decision was changed . Instead, a new building would be constructed on the lot between the Darrin Communications Center and the Greene Building. This would cost more, but would allow for Sage, Troy, and Ricketts to be renovated. A model was presented in the fall of 1974, less than a year after plans for a new building were introduced.

The estimated cost for the Jonsson Engineering Center was $11.8 million. Mr. and Mrs. J. Erik Jonsson (’22) provided a generous $2.6 million. Additional funds were supplied by the New York State Dormitory Fund. A thirty year bond would cover the remaining costs.

On April 18, 1975, Margaret Jonsson broke ground on the building from Dallas, Texas; the unique ceremony used a long distance telephone call to trigger an underground explosion. The project continued on schedule until its completion in fall 1977. During construction, the ’86 Field was referred to as the ’43 Field, as half of the space was used as a project staging area. Formal dedication of the Jonsson Engineering Center (JEC) took place on October 7, 1977. The final cost of the building was $17.8 million.

The JEC has six above ground floors, each of which house a discipline for the School of Engineering. Between these six floors and the basement, the building has 208,000 square feet of space for offices, classrooms, labs, and research facilities. Notable facilities include:

  • CORE Engineering Studio Lab (LITEC)
  • Geotechnical centrifuge research center
  • One of RPI’s sub-sonic wind tunnels
  • O.T. Swanson Multidisciplinary Design Lab (MDL)

Lally Building

(Location of the Old Student Clubhouse)

Pittsburgh Building

The Pittsburgh Building so named for the Rensselaer Polytechnic Association of Pittsburgh who donated the funds for the new administration building in 1909. William G. Wilkins ’77 of Pittsburgh was the architect and he designed the building without accepting pay. Built on the grounds of the Old Rankin House; the building was dedicated on Alumni Day June 13, 1911.

The Quad


The Ricketts Building is the product of a comprehensive plan developed in for a series of a dozen collegiate buildings to replace the old institute that was wiped out 25 years earlier. At a cost of $500,000 the building was completed in 1934 to house the aeronauticaul and metallurgical departments included a wind tunnel and engine testing facilities. An Albany news report quoted, “It will be, I believe, the first college building to be erected with a welded steel frame.” <ref>Template:Cite book</ref><ref>Template:Cite book</ref><ref>Template:Cite newspaper</ref>

Russell Sage Laboratory

Student Clubhouse

Beginning in 1890, students formally organized themselves in the Student Clubhouse, a building which stood at the west end of the ’86 Field. The Student Clubhouse had a billiard room, locker rooms and showers, a large reading room, a kitchen and dining room, and committee rooms. This building served as the home of the Student’s Association (now the Rensselaer Union, one of the oldest student run organizations in the United States) and oversaw athletic, religious, and social activities for the student body. In 1932, the original Student Clubhouse was razed to be replaced by the Rensselaer Union Clubhouse.

The new clubhouse, erected between the Greene and Amos Eaton buildings, was opened for student use in 1932. The new clubhouse was built at a cost of $125,000 with a façade to match the surrounding campus buildings. As the services of the “Union” expanded, the Clubhouse became the headquarters for the Student Union, in addition to providing space for the Polytechnic newspaper, The Transit committee and the book committee. Facilities in the clubhouse included a student lounge, billiard room, reading room, and a large hall for general meetings and dances. In 1967, the Rensselaer Union moved to its current home on 15th street. The clubhouse located between the Greene and Amos Eaton buildings became known as the Lally Management Center. Today, Lally Hall houses Information Technology and Computer Science.

Student Union

Troy Building

Vorhees Computing Center (VCC)

Walker Laboratory

West Hall

West Hall has a very interesting two pronged history, the history of the physical building and the history of the institutions it has housed. Originally built as Troy Hospital, the building opened in Fall 1871, after a 10 year unoccupied period the building reopened in 1923 as Catholic Central High School, when the student population outgrew the building in 1952, West Hall was finally purchased by Rensselaer. As a hospital the building was the second site of Troy Hospital founded by Daughters of Charity in 1850, the new building was at a higher elevation to increase “natural ventilation”. The more recent building was designed by Marcus F. Cummings in the “Grant Style” after the president. The hospital intended to treat “the poor and indigent of the city”, the industrial workers, and Irish Catholic immigrants whom the Catholic priests would not visit because of their residence in almshouses and orphanages, but over the years it developed private rooms for the more affluent members of the Troy community to have respite. A service offered in 1905 worth noting was the availability of horse drawn ambulances. During West Hall’s tenure as Catholic Central High School it acquired many of the classroom structures we see today, including the separated entrances for the sexes. Visible today are the southernmost entrance labeled “Boys” and the northernmost entrance labeled “Girls”. When Rensselaer purchased the school it increased the “academic facilities by 12 percent”, and has housed almost every department on campus at one point in its history. When faced with numerous campus improvement plans in the 1960s, West Hall was at serious risk of being torn down until it was placed on the National Register of Historic Buildings in 1973 at which point it was considered for student housing. When George M. Low was inaugurated in 1976, West Hall received one of its many renovations becoming the administrative offices of the Institute. West Hall is a colorful piece of campus history that would have been a tragic loss without the any renovations.

The Troy Community


In 1609, Henry Hudson, exploring for Holland, sailed up to the height of a great river's navigation. His report back to Holland established a Dutch presence in the fur trade in what the "usurping Hollanders" in 1614 called "New Netherland." The river and the surrounding area would become known as the Hudson River Valley.

In 1630, Kiliaen Van Rensselaer became the patroon of Rensselaerswyck, a manor 24 miles long and 48 miles wide that encompassed area within the current Albany, Rensselaer, and Columbia counties.

In 1659, Jan Barentsen Wemp, with the permission of Jan Baptist Van Rensselaer and Arent van Corlaer, purchased the "Great Meadow Ground," which would become the site of the city of Troy.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref>

Early History

On January 5, 1789 the freeholders in "Ashley's Ferry" and other surrounding farm areas met at Ashley's Tavern and established the name Troy for their village.

The most well known event in Troy's early history was the Great Fire of 1862, which destroyed most of downtown Troy and RPI (which was located at the bottom of the hill at the time). The fire started around noon on May 10 due to sparks from a passing locomotive setting a shingle of the Rensselaer and Saratoga Railroad Bridge on fire. Due to unfavorable winds, the fire spread to a broad belt of flame across the city in less than an hour and a half.<ref>Template:Cite book</ref> By six o'clock, the fire brigade stayed the spread of the fire at Donohue & Burge's carriage factory on 7th and Congress, but it still raged, having destroyed 507 buildings. As night fell, the view from 8th Street was still a no little grandeur. "Here and there unquenched flames illuminated desolated spaces, and great beds of fire glowed among the blackened walls of the destroyed buildings." <ref>Template:Cite web</ref>




External links

Special thanks to the Rensselaer Archives and Special Collections at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: