Skip to content
MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Hacking at MIT

MIT culture distinguishes itself not only for its seriousness of purpose, but also for its unique sense of humor, as expressed in the arena of hacking. Hacks at the Institute are elaborate but benign practical jokes, perpetrated anonymously on campus, around Cambridge, or even farther afield, and that amaze for their creativity, cleverness, and difficulty of execution. A 1958 prank in which the Harvard Bridge was measured in increments of fraternity pledge Oliver Smoot has achieved such fame that "smoot" has been incorporated into the American Heritage Dictionary and is included as a unit of measure in Google Earth. The bridge still displays its quirky unit of measure today.

Although not officially sanctioned, hacks can be appreciated for their technical prowess and humorous digs at rival institutions, for example in the astonishing emergence of a large black weather balloon with MIT written all it over in the middle of a Harvard-Yale football game in 1982, or in the 2006 cross-country theft of Caltech’s Fleming Cannon. Other famous hacks involve rather large objects falling from building rooftops (the Baker House Piano Drop) or appearing where they don’t belong, most notably on MIT’s Great Dome, which over the years has been graced by a Hilltop Steakhouse plastic cow, a Campus Police cruiser, the Wright Flyer, an MIT fire truck, and the Apollo Lunar Module.