MIT Institute Archives & Special Collections

A Whimsical Map of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1944-5

T he cartoon map of the MIT campus reproduced here, the brainchild of Prof. Frederick K. Morris (1885-1962), is a playful commentary on the Institute’s laboratories, departments, and activities during the final year of World War II. Morris, a geologist, was an authority on the rock formations of Asia and collected specimens there under the aegis of the American Museum of Natural History in the 1920s, bringing back intriguing objects (such as fossilized eggs of dinosaurs and giant ostriches) to the United States for further study. He was a member of the MIT faculty in the Department of Geology from 1927 to 1962.

A Whimsical Map of MIT, 1944-5

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In designing the map Morris gave free rein to his imagination. He depicts an employee in MIT’s Electrical Measurement Lab attempting to weigh a lightning bolt on a mechanical scale. He illustrates the activities of the Testing Materials Lab, which used testing apparatus ranging in capacity from 10,000 to 1,000,000 pounds, by envisioning a barnyard struggle. Two chickens test a worm’s tensile strength in a tug of war. Meanwhile, a stork delivers babies to married student housing at Bexley Hall, and an ambitious mother drags a budding aeronautical engineer in diapers to the MIT admissions office.

The map highlights locations and activities that still exist, as well as many that are no longer extant. The Margaret Cheney Room (now expanded to a whole suite of rooms) has since 1883 been set aside for the exclusive use of women students. The Forbes whaling prints and the Hart Nautical Museum have since been incorporated into the MIT Museum. A pendulum once swung from the interior of the Great Dome in Building 10, demonstrating the Earth’s rotation for students in what was then the main library reading room—a space now occupied by the Barker Engineering Library. The Radiation Laboratory did invaluable top-secret research that perfected radar for the allied war effort. It evolved at war’s end into the Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), which continued the Rad Lab’s work on microwave technologies. Morris’s association of the Rad Lab with Svengali, a shadowy, hypnotic character in George du Maurier’s novel Trilby, calls attention to the tantalizingly mysterious nature of the work being done inside the bustling lab under heavy security. Vannevar Bush’s groundbreaking Differential Analyzer, an elaborate mechanical computer jokingly compared here to an abacus, was phased out as electronic computing developed after the war. The imposing Van de Graaff generator, which supplied high voltage to accelerate sub-atomic particles for bombardment and study of atomic nuclei, is now on display at the Boston Museum of Science.

Earlier versions of Morris’s cartoon map, yearbooks, and student publications that illustrate the lighter side of MIT complement the official Institute records, personal papers, theses, and other historical materials available for research in the MIT Institute Archives and Special Collections, Room 14N-118.


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