The Telephone Banquet, 1916

"The Greatest Celebration Ever Held . . ."


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On June 14, 1916, approximately 1,500 alumni/ae along with special guests, including Alexander Graham Bell and Orville Wright, gathered at Symphony Hall in Boston to celebrate the new MIT campus in Cambridge and to raise funds. The speeches presented that night were broadcast via telephone to alumni clubs all over the country. The telephone banquet was just one of many elaborate events held in celebration of the new MIT campus. Over the course of the evening, more than three million dollars were raised for the "New Technology." Technology Review called it "the greatest celebration ever held by any institution of learning in the world.“

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The real highlight of the evening, however, was that the events at Symphony Hall were audible to alumni and guests gathered in 34 different locations throughout the country. The American Telephone Company, which set up the telephone connections for the banquet, boasted that this was "the most elaborate trans-continental telephone stunt ever staged." Alumni clubs as far north at Duluth, Minnesota, as far west as San Francisco, and as far south as New Orleans were able to listen to speeches by MIT President Richard Maclaurin, telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell, aviator Orville Wright, and MIT alumnus and donor Coleman du Pont. From Milwaukee, the club transmitted a rendition of "The Stein Song." The night ended with the "Star Spangled Banner," sung by all of the alumni clubs.

MIT was founded in 1861 and was situated in Boston until 1916. The 1866 date on the banquet program may commemorate the year in which MIT's first building was occupied.

More photos and information about the telephone banquet and other events surrounding MIT's move from Boston to Cambridge can be found in Technology Review (vol. 18, no. 7, July 1916) and archival collections including the records of the Dedication Reunion Committee, 1916 (AC 343) in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, Room 14N-118.

Photographs of several alumni/ae club banquets | Citations and credits


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