Each class year at MIT officially gathers three times — once, at the beginning, for the freshman picture; once, at the end, for graduation; and once, halfway through, for the unveiling of the class ring. The design process begins in freshman year with the highly competitive process of choosing the ring committee, or “RingComm,” of 12 class members, students representing different MIT walks of life. The RingComm next solicits bids for the very lucrative ring contract: 90% of all students will purchase the ring in a typical year; one company actually shuts down their factory for the one week each year of prime MIT ring-buying. Using imagery representing events from their first two years at MIT, and drawing upon suggestions and ideas of the entire class, RingComm designs the ring over a six-month period, unveils it at an extravagant event, and stages a lavish delivery ceremony.
How did this all start?
The history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Class Ring dates back to the spring of 1929. C. Brigham Allen, President of the Class of 1929, appointed a ring committee consisting of members from the classes of 1930, 1931, and 1932. Their mission was to design a ring to be used as the Standard Technology Ring. The committee’s first decision was whether to use the beaver or the Great Dome on the ring bezel. After much debate, the committee decided to adorn the bezel of the ring with the beaver and have a three-piece construction, with MIT and the class year each appearing on a separate shank. Thus the Brass Rat was born as a tradition at MIT.
And Wikipedia says,
Despite the disdain that many MIT graduates profess for academic tradition, a very large number of them proudly wear an MIT class ring, which is large, heavy, distinctive, and easily recognized from a considerable distance. Originally created in 1929, the ring’s official name is the “Standard Technology Ring,” but its colloquial name is far more well known���the “Brass Rat.” The undergraduate ring design varies slightly from year to year to reflect the unique character of the MIT experience for that class but always features a three-piece design, with the MIT seal and the class year each appearing on a separate shank, flanking a large rectangular bezel bearing an image of a beaver.
Yes, the ring is known as the Brass Rat. Why? Because it is made of gold and features a beaver on the front.
Why a beaver? Another interesting story. In 1914, Lester Gardner of the MIT Club of New York proposed a mascot to President Richard Maclaurin.
“We first thought of the kangaroo, which, like Tech, goes forward by leaps and bounds. Then we considered the elephant. He is wise, patient, strong, hard working, and like all those who graduate from Tech, has a good tough hide. But neither of these were American animals. We turned to [William Temple] Hornaday���s book on the animals of North America and instantly chose the beaver. The beaver not only typifies the Tech [student], but his habits are peculiarly our own. The beaver is noted for his engineering, mechanical skills, and industry. His habits are nocturnal. He does his best work in the dark.”
Now that you have all that background on this important aspect of MIT tradition, I want to use today’s entry to catalog the recent history of Brass Rat designs, focusing on the bezel, or front, of the ring.
Which Rat is your favorite?