The Georgia Tech Whistle

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The Whistle in Action!

Short Wikipedia summary on Georgia Tech Traditions [1]

The Georgia Tech whistle is a steam whistle that is currently located near the Tech Tower. It has been an integral part of Georgia Tech's history, dating back to the 1890s. The blowing of the whistle occurs five minutes before every hour. Prior to G. Wayne Clough's retirement, the whistle had also been used during his commemorative speeches and is also used to signal a Georgia Tech win at Grant Field[2].

Contents

Turning the Whistle Off

The whistle has always been part of tradition at Georgia Tech, providing unique assets to the Tech campus that are not found at any other university. However, negative consequences supplement the positive consequences of having a whistle on campus. For example, a tradition of stealing the whistle evolved over the years. In addition, Georgia Tech heard complaints from many people regarding the whistle and the noise it created.[3]

As fall approached in 1981, so did controversy at Georgia Tech. The trouble began when Dr. James R. Stevenson, Special Assistant to the President, wrote a memorandum to the President, Dr. Joseph M. Pettit. [4] The letter stated that the whistle was "an annoyance to people in the vicinity and serves no useful purpose during the working day." Dr. Pettit considered Stevenson's argument to be valid, and proceeded to have the whistle turned off indefinitely. Following this, Pettit left town for a few days, only to return to Tech to find a large group of upset students, faculty, and alumni, who claimed that the whistle not only provided necessary time updates throughout the day, but that it also was a piece of Georgia Tech's grand history. President Pettit knew something needed to be done to preserve order on campus.

Pettit organized a meeting that would include many people representing different organizations at Tech. Included in the meeting were John Block (Student Body President), Bob Pearse (Senior Class President), Chris Gorby (Ramblin' Reck Club President, James Dull (Dean of Students), and The Technique (Georgia Tech's student newspaper team). [5]

The group met on Sunday, September 27 to discuss the silencing of the whistle, as well as possible solutions to the disagreement. Pettit began the meeting by apologizing for making the decision to silence the whistle without asking for student input or gaining the consent of the people of Tech. They proceeded to discuss possible solutions, which included:

- Discontinuing the blowing of the whistle from 8am to 5pm

- Reducing the sound level of the whistle

- Moving the whistle to a more suitable location

- Utilizing the whistle only at 7:55am, 11:55am, and 4:55pm

No conclusions were reached at the meeting, prompting Pettit to schedule another meeting just a few days later. Prior to the Wednesday meeting, student leaders met with their groups and organizations to hear students' opinions on the subject. [6]

On Tuesday morning, the day before Pettit's scheduled meeting, the whistle was stolen from its spot atop the steam plant. The group that stole it, which would be named the "Invisible Seven," wanted ransom in return for the whistle. [7] The deal called for reactivation of the whistle. Despite the theft, Pettit and his leaders still met on Wednesday.

During the meeting Pettit and the students discussed the outcomes of the meetings with their respective clubs and groups. Gorby said the Ramblin' Reck Club voted unanimously in favor of turning the whistle back on. Block followed suit, and informed Pettit that the Student Body believed the whistle should be reactivated. However, the Student Body felt the need for a better time keeping method, such as clocks and bells in all buildings. Pettit concluded that there would be another meeting the next day, which would include the final decision regarding the whistle.

During the process of collaborating and discussing solutions to the problem, Pettit informed leaders about petitions that had been circulating, including some from those in favor of the whistle, and some from others who did not support it. Finally, a decision was made when Stevenson released a memorandum stating the whistle would resume its normal schedule of blowing - five minutes before every hour. Pettit's meetings proved that the Georgia Tech community considered the whistle to be a necessary asset. This argument was enough, as shown by the fact that the whistle still remains on campus today. In addition, Stevenson said that students, faculty, and alumni were working toward a more long-term solution. The last sentence in Stevenson's letter successfully concluded the future of the whistle; "There will be a Tech whistle!"[8]

Stealing the Whistle

Stealing the whistle was a tradition at Tech for decades. With this being said, someone (although nobody knows specifically who that person(s) is/are) started the tradition. The whistle was stolen many times, as early as 1902 and as recent as 1997. However, the first few times the whistle was stolen were also the most notable because they helped bring attention to a new tradition.

First Whistle Theft (1902)

The first stealing of the whistle involved two students who roomed in a small shack on campus [9]. The two roommates were friends; however, they belonged to two opposite campus factions, each of which was highly competitive with the other.

One night, a student noticed that a large wrench had been stolen and accused his roommate to be the suspect. That night the student, wanting revenge for the stealing of his wrench, slipped outside and assembled his group and then proceeded toward the building where the whistle stood in place. The other faction assembled as well and both factions faced each other at the wood lab. They fought, and the winning faction was awarded the prize of the whistle.

The next morning, mechanical engineering instructor John Saylor Coon and his students met to decide when and how the whistle would be replaced and they discussed the cost to replace the whistle. They concluded that the replacement whistle would cost about six dollars [10]. Funding the cost would not be an issue, as the students' deposits (which amounted to about thirty-six dollars) paid for the new whistle. The fact that Tech would make a profit from the stealing was encouraging to many. [11].

Coon was certain of the culprit and ordered the thief to return the whistle the following morning. The culprit attempted to deny the accusations, but Coon was still convinced that he was guilty. The culprit returned the whistle the next morning and nobody was punished.

Stealing the Whistle in the Winter of 1905

The second time the whistle was stolen created more controversy than did the first. It disappeared for 44 years and was not returned until 1949. Once again, the blame can be placed on some of the Georgia Tech students.

As opposed to the first whistle theft (the suspects had no trouble stealing the whistle), the second whistle theft involved a group of students that ran into several problems before finally obtaining the whistle successfully. Originally, the group attempted to use a rope ladder to climb atop the building where the whistle was located. This became a problem as heavy wind gusts caused the targeted chord to snap, leaving the students without anything to attach their rope ladder to. The students then found a large piece of wood that was located nearby and dragged it to the shop wall to attempt to finally obtain the whistle. Originally, this plan did not work well because the student who climbed atop the horse was too heavyset and would break the horse. The group called on a lighter student to take the honor of climbing the wall. The operation was successful.

Following the stealing of the whistle all Tech students were called into the chapel. They were told that unless the culprits confessed the costs would be taken from the "damage fees" of the entire student body. The students never confessed, and the whistle was not found until 1949. [12]

Items and Events Named after the Whistle

The Whistle Newspaper

The Whistle Newspaper

The Whistle served as the name for the faculty/staff newspaper that was published weekly. It is similar to the student newspaper, The Technique.

The whistle maintains its prominence on Tech's campus in several ways. The whistle continue to blow throughout the day, and its name is used in several ways. Two of these include the staff newspaper and former President G. Wayne Clough's commemorative speeches.



"When the Whistle Blows" Speeches

G. Wayne Clough

During G. Wayne Clough's tenure as President of Georgia Tech, he would give speeches annually from 2000 to 2008[13]. These speeches took place on the original Georgia Tech lawn, and Clough would pay his respects and honors to the people of Georgia Tech who died each year. The Whistle would blow at least once during the speech in order to celebrate the lost ones' lives and contributions to the Tech community. "We salute them with the Georgia Tech whistle, which has been an integral part of life on campus for over 100 years." Families of lost ones who were unable to attend the ceremony were given replicas of the whistle.







Learn More

View this video about Georgia Tech Traditions to see an example of The Georgia Tech Whistle



Relevant Source Summaries

References

  1. Georgia Tech Traditions. (11 Sept 2010). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved September 11, 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_Tech_traditions
  2. Clough, G. Wayne "When the Whistle Blows." 17 April 2008. Retrieved September 30, 2010 from http://hdl.handle.net/1853/22270
  3. McNease, Suzanne. "Tech's Whistle Blows Full Steam Ahead." The Technique 2 Oct. 1981: 1+. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  4. McNease, Suzanne. "Tech's Whistle Blows Full Steam Ahead." The Technique 2 Oct. 1981: 1+. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  5. McNease, Suzanne. "Tech's Whistle Blows Full Steam Ahead." The Technique 2 Oct. 1981: 1+. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  6. McNease, Suzanne. "Tech's Whistle Blows Full Steam Ahead." The Technique 2 Oct. 1981: 1+. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  7. McNease, Suzanne. "Tech's Whistle Blows Full Steam Ahead." The Technique 2 Oct. 1981: 1+. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  8. The Technique 2 Oct. 1981: 1+. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  9. Lavinsky, Jerry. "Uncle Heinie Tells Facts; Whistle Story Is Revealed." The Technique 28 Nov. 1950: 3. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  10. Lavinsky, Jerry. "Uncle Heinie Tells Facts; Whistle Story Is Revealed." The Technique 28 Nov. 1950: 3. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  11. Lavinsky, Jerry. "Uncle Heinie Tells Facts; Whistle Story Is Revealed." The Technique 28 Nov. 1950: 3. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  12. Lavinsky, Jerry. "Uncle Heinie Tells Facts; Whistle Story Is Revealed." The Technique 28 Nov. 1950: 3. Print. Retrieved September 30, 2010.
  13. Clough, G. Wayne "When the Whistle Blows." 17 April 2008. Retrieved September 30, 2010 from http://hdl.handle.net/1853/22270

Daniel Nielsen

Section J1

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