MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

Tech Songs
The M.I.T. Kommers Book
1903

Cover of Tech Songs
Listen to some of the songs

The tradition of student songs, dating back to the nineteenth century, once formed an important component of the undergraduate experience at MIT. In 1903 the Institute had no campus life as we think of it today and no dormitories (although preliminary plans for "Technology Chambers," a proposed dorm for 175 men, were under consideration at that time). A popular watering hole was "Mrs. King's Lunchroom," where students paid an average of 17¢ for a hot meal, and daily specials could be had for 10¢. Students commuted to school or lived in rooming houses. Under these conditions student activities were slow to develop, although some students banded together in regional societies (e.g., the Southern Club and the Chicago Club), professional societies (like K2S, for chemistry students), or fraternities (Sigma Chi, the first at MIT, had been established in 1882). Musical societies included the Glee Club, the Banjo Club, and the Mandolin and Guitar Club. Songs related to the MIT experience provided undergraduates with a common bond and an outlet for frustrations.

Early in the twentieth century MIT President Henry Pritchett (1900-1907) asked alumnus Frederic Field Bullard, Class of 1887, to compile a book of Tech songs. (Originally located in Boston's Back Bay, MIT was known informally as "Boston Tech," or simply "Tech.") Bullard collected many old songs from the pages of The Tech and Technique, but he also solicited and received contributions directly from alums.

Entitled Tech Songs, the book was subtitled The M.I.T. Kommers Book, from the German, meaning a book containing a collection of students' songs to be sung at students' convivial gatherings. Bullard hoped that the first edition (1903) would be a seed from which later, expanded editions would grow. He noted upon its completion, "Thus endeth the beginning."

First line of song "Retrospection"
See the rest of "Retrospection" | See the entire songbook (PDF)

 

A second edition of Tech Songs was published in 1907. New student songs were composed and additional verses and revised lyrics found their way into older songs. Such modifications reflected evolving student values, grievances, and senses of humor as one generation of undergraduates replaced another. A third and final edition was published in 1929, at which time the subtitle was dropped and the book renamed Technology Songs.

Tech Songs and other resources about student life and MIT history are available for research in the Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.


Object of the Month: October 2000; February 2009


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