What is a Hokie? The origin of the word "Hokie" has nothing to do with a turkey. It was coined by O.M. Stull (class of 1896), who used it in a spirit yell he wrote for a competition.
Here's how that competition came to be. Virginia Tech was founded in 1872 as a land-grant institution and was named Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. In 1896, the Virginia General Assembly officially changed the college's name to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, a name so long that people shortened it in popular usage to VPI. The original college cheer, which made reference to the original name of the institution, was no longer suitable. So a contest was held to select a new spirit yell, and Stull won the $5 top prize for his cheer, now known as Old Hokie:
Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy.
Techs, Techs, V.P.I.
Polytechs - Vir-gin-ia.
Rae, Ri, V.P.I.
Later, the phrase "Team! Team! Team!" was added at the end, and an "e" was added to "Hoki."
Since the university had a new name and a new yell, new college colors seemed to be a desirable next step. During 1896, a committee was formed to find a suitable combination of colors to replace the original colors of black and gray, which appeared in stripes on athletic uniforms and presented an image resembling prison uniforms.
The committee selected burnt orange and Chicago maroon after discovering that no other college utilized this particular combination of colors. Burnt orange and Chicago maroon were officially adopted and were first worn during a football game versus nearby Roanoke College on Oct. 26, 1896.
A School of Many Names
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University officially opened on Oct. 1, 1872, as Virginia’s white land-grant institution (Hampton Normal and Industrial Institute, founded in 1868, was designated the commonwealth's first black land-grant school. This continued until 1920, when the funds were shifted by the legislature to the Virginia Normal and Industrial Institute in Petersburg, which in 1946 was renamed to Virginia State University by the legislature). During its existence, the university has operated under four different legal names. The founding name was Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Following a reorganization of the college in the 1890s, the state legislature changed the name to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, effective March 5, 1896. Faced with such an unwieldy name, people began calling it Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or simply VPI. On June 23, 1944, the legislature followed suit, officially changing the name to Virginia Polytechnic Institute. At the same time, the commonwealth moved most women’s programs from VPI to nearby Radford College, and that school’s official name became Radford College, Women’s Division of Virginia Polytechnic Institute. The commonwealth dissolved the affiliation between the two colleges in 1964. The state legislature sanctioned university status for VPI and bestowed upon it the present legal name, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, effective June 26, 1970. While some older alumni and other friends of the university continue to call it VPI, its most popular–and its official—nickname today is Virginia Tech.
Motto, Seal, and Logos
Also in 1896, the university adopted Ut Prosim, Latin for "That I May Serve," as its motto, and a college seal was developed. The Virginia Tech Board of Visitors did not officially adopt the seal, which is still used, until 1963.
In 1991, Virginia Tech adopted a university logo, which incorporates an image of the War Memorial with its eight pylons, each representing a different virtue. The inclusion of the numerals "1872," the founding year of the university, reinforces the traditions of more than a century of service to the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world.
The university logo was updated in 2006 after a yearlong study by a branding consultant, who worked closely with the university community to develop a representative tagline for Virginia Tech. That tagline — Invent the Future — expresses the future-altering and future-enhancing work of each facet of the Virginia Tech experience. So usually when you see the updated logo, you'll see the version that incorporates the tagline.
The university also has an athletic logo: a streamlined “VT,” which is used only for sports and sports merchandise. Unveiled in 1984, the athletic logo is a composite of designs submitted by two Virginia Tech art students — Lisa Eichler of Chesapeake, Va., and Chris Craft of Roanoke, Va. — to a competition sponsored by the university's art department. It replaced an older athletic logo that consisted of a large “V” with a “T” centered inside it, which had debuted in 1957.
From Gobbler to HokieBird
The origin of the term "Gobblers" is disputed, with one story claiming it was coined in the early 1900s as a description of how student athletes would "gobble" up their more than ample servings of food. Another story attributes it to the fact that the 1909 football coach, Branch Bocock, wanted to stimulate better spirit amongst his players and initiated them into an impromptu and informal "Gobbler Club."
Thus, the name was already popular when Floyd Meade, a local resident chosen by the student body to serve as the school's mascot, had a large turkey pull him in a cart at a football game in 1913. The school's president halted the cart after one game because he thought it was cruel to the turkey. Meade continued to parade his mascot, which he had trained to gobble on command, up and down the sidelines — and did so until another "turkey trainer" took over in 1924 to continue the tradition. Enthusiastic fans and sports writers adopted the "Gobbler" nickname and began to use it regularly.
In 1936, a costumed Gobbler joined the live gobbler for at least one game. The use of a live gobbler mascot continued into the 1950s, and the first permanent costumed Gobbler took the field in the fall of 1962.
But the "Gobbler" was not to last, at least in name. In the late 1970s, the university hired a football coach who heard the theory that the Gobbler mascot was based on athletes gobbling down their food. The coach didn't like the image, so he began promoting the "Hokie" nickname.
In 1982, the appearance of the Gobbler mascot costume was changed to one that looked like a maroon cardinal with a snood, and references first appeared to it as "the Hokie mascot," "the Hokie," and "the Hokie bird." The costume worn by today's HokieBird made its first appearance in 1987. HokieBird has won national mascot competitions and has been so popular that the mascot landed an appearance on Animal Planet's "Turkey Secrets."
Tech Triumph, the university's most popular fight song, was composed in 1919 by Wilfred P. Maddux (class of 1920) and his neighbor, Mattie Eppes. It was officially adopted by the student body in December 1919.
Virginia Tech exhibits its character and pride every day via its buildings, most of which are made of Hokie Stone. Hokie stone is actually a native limestone common in Southwest Virginia and parts of Tennessee and Alabama. No two stones are the same color, varying from grays, browns, and blacks to pinks, oranges, and maroons. Since the mid-1950s, the university has operated its own quarry, and the popular limestone appears on many of the university’s buildings.
Corps of Cadets
The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets is another tradition that distinguishes the university, which required corps participation for every able-bodied male for four years until 1923 and then for two years until 1964, when it became voluntary.
Virginia Tech remains one of three public universities in the country (Texas A&M and North Georgia College and State University are the others) with both an active corps of cadets and "civilian" lifestyle on its campus.
Various cannons have been used off and on for years at Virginia Tech, but in the 1960s one industrious student formally proposed to the student governing body that a cannon be acquired to fire at football games. The proposal was approved but went no further.
About the same time, two cadets from the class of 1964 made a pact at a traditional VPI-VMI Thanksgiving Day game that they would build a cannon for Virginia Tech (then known as VPI) to outshine — or outblast — Virginia Military Institute's "Little John." The cadets — Alton B. "Butch" Harper Jr. and Homer Hadley "Sonny" Hickam (of “October Sky” fame) — were tired of hearing VMI keydets chant "Where's your cannon?" after firing their own.
Harper and Hickam collected brass from their fellow cadets, added it to metal donated by Hickam's father, collected donations from the corps to purchase other supplies, and used a mold created in one of the engineering departments from Civil War-style plans to make their cannon. They derived the name "Skipper" from the fact that President John Kennedy, who had just been assassinated, had been the skipper of a PT-boat, and they wanted to do something to honor him.
On its first firing at the next game with VMI, the eager cadets tripled the charge, which blew the hats off half the VMI keydets and shook the glass in the press-box windows of Roanoke's Victory Stadium. They never heard the VMI chant again.
Today, Skipper is fired outside Lane Stadium when the football team enters the field and when it scores.
Written by Clara B. Cox (class of 1984)
Below are links to websites that offer information on the university's history. Many more links can be found on the University Archives and Special Collections websites (both are departments within University Libraries).