History and Traditions
On October 1, 1872, Addison “Add” Caldwell walked 26 miles from Craig County to enroll as the first student at Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. Ever since then, Virginia Tech has been fulfilling its role as a leading land-grant university. The tiny college, originally housed in the old Olin and Preston Institute near what is now Alumni Mall, has grown into a world-class university.
Discover Virginia Tech’s rich history and traditions through our heritage as a leading university from 1872 to the present.
What is a “Hokie”?
In the 1890s, a student named O.M. Stull, Class of 1896, won a $5 prize for coming up with a new spirit cheer, now known as “Old Hokie.” The original went:
Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy.
Techs, Techs, V.P.I.
Polytechs - Vir-gin-ia.
Rae, Ri, V.P.I.
Later, an “e” was added to “Hoki” to make “Hokie,” and “Team! Team! Team!” was attached to the end.
What’s in a name?
Significant academic changes in 1896 ushered in a new name more befitting the university’s higher profile — Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute, commonly known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or VPI.
- 1944: The shortened Virginia Polytechnic Institute became the official name.
- 1970: The Virginia General Assembly bestowed university status, and the formal name of the university became Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
- Today: Virginia Tech is the university’s official nickname, used in all but the most formal situations.
Colors and mascot
Virginia Tech colors
During 1896, a committee was formed to find a suitable combination of colors to replace the original colors of black and gray, which made athletic uniforms resemble prison garb. The committee selected burnt orange and Chicago maroon because no other college was using that particular color combination.
Burnt orange and Chicago maroon was first worn during a football game against Roanoke College on October 26, 1896.
Virginia Tech mascot: From Gobbler to HokieBird
Hokies were once called “Gobblers,” a nickname whose origin is widely disputed. One story claims it resulted from the way student athletes would “gobble” up their food.
The name was already popular when Floyd Meade, a local resident, trained a large turkey to pull a cart at a football game in 1913. Throughout the years, trained turkeys would continue to gobble on command and perform stunts. In 1962, a student raised $200 for a costume; the result was an unusual turkey with a cardinal-like head, known as the Gobbler and then the Fighting Gobbler.
When the Gobbler nickname fell out of favor, student George Wills sketched new designs for a class project. The updated mascot appeared at a football game in September 1981. The current HokieBird, which conveys power and strength, debuted in September 1987.
Did you know? Students who dress as the HokieBird remain anonymous until commencement, when they reveal their secret by wearing HokieBird feet during the procession into Lane Stadium.
“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.
Techmen, we’re Techmen, with spirit true and faithful,
Backing up our teams with hopes undying;
Techmen, oh, Techmen, we’re out to win today,
Showing “pep” and life with which we’re trying;
V.P., old V.P., you know our hearts are with you
In our luck which never seems to die;
Win or lose, we’ll greet you with a glad returning,
You’re the pride of V.P.I.
Just watch our men so big and active
Support the Orange and Maroon. Let’s go Techs.
We know our ends and backs are stronger,
With winning hopes, we fear defeat no longer.
To see our team plow through the line, boys.
Determined now to win or die:
So give a Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hy,
Rae, Ri, old V.P.I.
The "Alma Mater" was born in spring 1939 when Ernest T. Sparks (Class of 1940) composed music and L.G. Chase (Class of 1941) wrote lyrics for a student contest.
Sing praise to Alma Mater dear,
For V.P.I. we'll ever cheer;
Come lift your voices, swell the song,
Our loyalties to her belong.
So stand and sing, all hail to thee.
VT, all hail to thee.
The Orange and Maroon you see,
That’s fighting on to victory;
Our strife will not be long this day,
For glory lies within this fray.
All loyal sons and daughters, one,
We raise our banner to the sun;
Our motto brings a spirit true,
That we may ever serve you.
Written and recorded by the heavy metal band Metallica, “Enter Sandman” has been played in Lane Stadium since 2000 as the football team enters the field. The tradition of students jumping up and down during the song started on December 1, 2001, when a Marching Virginians band member started jumping during the song and was joined by his colleagues. The tradition eventually spread to the basketball teams’ entrances in Cassell Coliseum.
The lunch pail
The famed Virginia Tech lunch pail symbolizes the blue-collar approach of the Hokies’ football defense, developed by assistant head coach and defensive coordinator Bud Foster. Foster’s Lunch Pail Defense Foundation provides scholarships for high school students from the New River and Roanoke valleys, as well as assisting the families of those awaiting organ transplants.
In 1995, the original lunch pail was acquired by the mother-in-law of co-defensive coordinator Rod Sharpless. The pail once belonged to a coal miner, and after the record-setting defensive season, the lunch pail became an iconic element of the Hokie football lore. The battered and rusting pail, which now contains the names of the 32 Hokies who died in the tragedy on April 16, 2007, travels wherever the Hokies go, and its care is entrusted to a defensive leader.
Ranger Company, the Army ROTC company, has performed the Game-Ball Run every year since 1977, although the tradition likely originated with the Virginia Tech-VMI football games years before that.
Members of Ranger Company run the game ball for 100 miles around campus during the week of the annual homecoming football game and then hold a ceremony the day of the game, which includes running the ball into the stadium.
Firing cannons: Skipper
At a football game against Virginia Military Institute (VMI), two cadets from the Class of 1964 made a pact that they would build a cannon to outshine — or outblast — VMI’s “Little John.” The cadets, Homer Hadley “Sonny” Hickam (of “October Sky” fame) and Alton B. “Butch” Harper Jr., collected brass from fellow cadets and added it to metal provided by Hickam’s father. On its first firing, the eager cadets tripled the charge, which blew the hats off half the VMI Keydets and shook the glass in the pressbox windows of Roanoke’s Victory Stadium.
“Skipper” is named for President John F. Kennedy, who had been a PT-boat skipper. Today, Skipper is fired at football games and for other notable occasions.
More athletics history
The first known organized competition against an off-campus team occurred in 1877 when the VAMC baseball team, which probably included townspeople, played Roanoke College and won by a record score of 53-13.
The first effort to formalize athletic activities came in fall 1891 when the VAMC Athletic Association was established. The following year, a football team and tennis association were added. In one long-running and affectionately remembered football tradition, Tech played VMI in Roanoke on Thanksgiving Day for nearly 75 years.
Women finally joined the athletics fold in 1970 with a swimming team. Women’s basketball followed in 1972.
The Hokies have been a member of several conferences over the years. They joined the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004. NCAA Division I-A men’s varsity sports at Tech are football, basketball, baseball, soccer, indoor and outdoor track, swimming and diving, wrestling, tennis, golf, and cross country. Women’s varsity sports are basketball, tennis, volleyball, swimming and diving, indoor and outdoor track, soccer, softball, lacrosse, golf, and cross country.
The Student-Athlete Performance Center benefits recruiting, nutrition, and performance for all 22 varsity sports. And in 2021-22 academic year, over 350 of the university's student-athletes earned GPAs above 3.0.
Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets
Our oldest tradition
The Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets became official in the 1890s, drawing from the university’s origin in 1872 and its required military training for students. As the university changed and innovated, so did the corps. Mandated four-year participation in the corps for all males changed to two years in 1923 — the same year women were first admitted — and then participation became voluntary in 1964.
Today, Virginia Tech is one of three public universities in the country with both an active corps of cadets and a “civilian” lifestyle on its campus.
Centered in Virginia Tech’s early history, the university’s Upper Quad has long been the home of the Corps of Cadets. Lane Hall, completed in 1888, is a state and national historic landmark originally known as Barracks No. 1. In front of the hall is an orange and maroon sidewalk that forms the largest “VT” on campus.
In recent updates, Pearson and New Cadet halls have replaced older cadet residence halls, and a new plaza between the halls displays the Corps’ monuments, honoring those who have served in the past and present.
Marching in memory of Caldwell
The Corps of Cadets pay homage to the university’s beginnings and celebrate the progress of first-year cadets by retracing the walk Add Caldwell took from Craig County. Cadets cover the first 13 miles in the fall and the second 13 miles in the spring to mark the end to the first year of training.
Campus buildings and memorials
Virginia Tech exhibits its character and pride every day via its buildings, most of which are made of Hokie Stone, a limestone common in Southwest Virginia. It was first used in campus building construction in 1899, and today, all new central campus buildings must bear the distinctive stone.
Hewed by hand and varying from grays, browns, and blacks to pinks, oranges, and maroons, no two stones are the same color. Since the mid-1950s, the university has operated its own quarry.
The Pylons and War Memorial Chapel
One of the most important and symbolic structures on campus, The Pylons above War Memorial Chapel bear the names of every Virginia Tech student and graduate who died defending our nation’s freedom, beginning with those lost during World War I. The Pylons evoke Virginia Tech’s core values. From left to right, they represent Brotherhood, Honor, Leadership, Sacrifice, Service, Loyalty, Duty, and Ut Prosim.
At the memorial’s center, the cenotaph displays the names of Virginia Tech’s seven Medal of Honor recipients.
April 16 Memorial
The April 16 Memorial, located on the Drillfield, remembers the 32 university community members who lost their lives on April 16, 2007.
The Hokie Stone symbolizes our relentless spirit, our courage to move forward, and our determination never to forget.
Gargoyles and grotesques
Their hunched bodies and contorted faces are the stuff of Hokie legend. At least 15 “gargoyles” at Virginia Tech fit right into our neo-Gothic architecture. And for some students, finding every one of them before graduation is a rite of passage.
Functional gargoyles are waterspouts that move water away from the roof of a building. So while the “cowgoyles” of Saunders Hall might not function as waterspouts, they are a beloved decorative element.
List of known gargoyles:
- 4 Eggleston Hall
- 4 Hillcrest Hall
- 3 Smyth Hall
- 4 Saunders Hall
Virginia Tech motto, seal, and logos
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.
In 2017, a new brand platform and accompanying logo were launched. The new Virginia Tech mark is grounded in tradition, yet focused on the future. The lettering reflects our VT-shaped educational experience.
The vertical bar of the T represents disciplinary depth, while the horizontal bar reflects the ability to work across disciplines. The arms of the V represent experiential learning and the spirit of Ut Prosim. The logo’s openness and shape highlight Virginia Tech’s identity as an inclusive community that thrives at the intersection of disciplines.
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 students to a competition sponsored by the university’s art department.
More Virginia Tech history
Firming and building the foundations
John M. McBryde laid the foundations for modern-day Virginia Tech in the 1890s, including the development of B.S. degrees and graduate study, granting permanent status for the Corps of Cadets, and starting the athletics program. McBryde and his son also developed the university’s motto: Ut Prosim (That I May Serve).
T. Marshall Hahn Jr. transformed VPI from college status to a major research university in the 1960s and 1970s. He championed the development of a university education and led the movement to create the research division. The student body tripled, and eight residence halls and 10 other major facilities were added.
Charles W. Steger expertly guided the university’s growth and scope during the first 14 years of the 2000s. Research funding and private fundraising increased. He established the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute and a school of biomedical engineering. He was a visionary leader for the Moss Arts Center and in elevating Virginia Tech’s presence in Northern Virginia.
That “huge” Virginia Tech ring
Colleges across the country offer students the chance to buy a class ring, but very few annually redesign the ring to be unique to each class. This tradition began at Virginia Tech in 1911-12, and the resulting ring always invokes memories, traditions, and pride.
Each year, the sophomore class selects a Ring Committee to design their ring collection, which always includes the screaming eagle, American flag, campus buildings, and an interlocking chain around the bezel. From there, the Ring Committee incorporates characteristics unique to its class.
Since 1934, couples have exchanged rings at the Virginia Tech Ring Dance to the tune of “Moonlight and VPI,” written specifically for the Ring Dance by composer Fred Waring and lyricist Charles Gaynor.