Humor has always played a significant role in student life at MIT. Early volumes of Technique, the MIT yearbook, contain elaborate puns referring to people and activities at the Institute. VooDoo, MIT’s humor magazine, began publication in 1919, lasted from then until 1969, resumed publication between 1975 and 1977, and was launched again in 1990, continuing to the present. Early issues of VooDoo consist largely of jokes, drawings, and satirical essays about such matters as exams, professors, dating, and drinking, reflecting undergraduate interests and concerns. (Three issues of a precursor, The Woop-Garoo, had been published in 1918.)
The cover of VooDoo’s first issue reproduced here shows an undergraduate student dozing in a chair. The textbook that put him to sleep lies neglected on the floor. The cover image and the cartoon below it depict a theme familiar to today’s undergraduates, even if the style of both dress and humor have changed considerably.
The magazine’s mascot is Phosphorus, a cat. Phos was a black and white alley cat who took up residence in VooDoo’s editorial offices on March 20, 1919, and has been the magazine’s mascot ever since. “After he had become accustomed to our new typewriter,” a note in the April 1919 issue announced, “it was discovered that Phosphorus would occasionally sit down at the machine and…pound out a few remarks. These will be published from time to time as the Editor-in-Chief sees fit.” As of Fall 2006, the precocious feline was still pounding away.
Other humor magazines at MIT have included Thursday (1969-1970, 1975-1978) and Tool & Die (1983-1985), each of which was related to VooDoo at some point. Thursday was originally a news-oriented paper that focused on controversies on the MIT campus, such as the War in Vietnam. As Thursday VooDoo, it incorporated humor with its reporting on campus events, social issues, and politics. VooDoo’s Tool & Die was short-lived, lasting only from 1987 to 1989. VooDoo had an uneasy relationship in the 1920s with The Tech, another MIT student publication (established in 1881). In 1926 the two became embroiled in a feud when The Tech obtained proofs of a VooDoo lampoon poking fun at the older paper and released it with a rebuttal several days before the humor magazine’s planned publication date.
Student publications such as VooDoo, Thursday, Technique, and The Tech are available for research in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, 14N-118.
Technique No. 1 (1885): MIT's First "Annual"
The Tech, December 20, 1901
MIT Institute Archives