Smoot legacy continues on Harvard Bridge

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On Tuesday morning, alumni of Lambda Chi Alpha continued their 56-year-old tradition of repainting the Smoot markers on the Harvard Bridge. This year, the 179th Smoot included a tribute to MIT Officer Sean Collier.
Tristan Honscheid—The Tech

Smoot legacy continues on Harvard Bridge

An anonymous donor has given the Charles River Conservancy 2.5 million dollars to install new lighting along the Harvard Bridge, with one condition: that the new lights be installed every 30 Smoots.

According to the Boston Globe, the design for the new lighting “utilizes energy-efficient bulbs on both the roadway and pedestrian path, adding lighting at a lower level to make the bridge both more attractive and safer.”

The request pays tribute to the 1958 prank by the MIT Lambda Chi Alpha (LCA) fraternity. Overnight, a group of LCA members measured and marked the length of the Harvard Bridge using Oliver R. Smoot ’62, then 5 foot 7, as a unit of measurement. They found the bridge to be 364.4 Smoots — plus or minus an ear.

Since then, the markers — repainted regularly by MIT students — have become a well-known landmark.

The Smoot markers were recently repainted by MIT LCA alumni. On Monday, “twelve alums of the Lambda Zeta chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha gathered at the chapter house to launch the Smoot painting task,” according to a LCA press release.

MIT’s LCA chapter was recently suspended by its national organization, closing the building for at least five years. Steven Pettinato ’80, president of the fraternity’s alumni corporation, referred to the markers as “an important tradition that transcends the issues facing the current local chapter.”

—Jennifer F. Switzer

Eric Cigan about 8 years ago

Please check the photo -- as of this moment, the photo shows a speaker in an auditorium rather than a close-up of the 179th Smoot.

Christine about 8 years ago

Awesome! I'm glad they painted them. It would be sad to see this tradition end just because of the 'tute's current misunderstandings...

David Lawrence about 8 years ago

Smoot's experience was unquestionably hazing, not a "prank" or a "hack".

Yes, it's hilarious that Smoot went on to become the chairman of the American National Standards Institute and the president of the International Standards Organization.

But I feel certain that, if such a stunt were attempted today, the consequences and reception would be much more serious. It is hypocritical for MIT to glorify this one instance of hazing (most especially through the 2008 anniversary celebration, in which the mayor of Cambridge declared a "Smoot Day" and the president of MIT dedicated a commemorative plaque) while taking such a hard line against hazing everywhere else.

Anonymous about 8 years ago

I'm shocked, shocked, to hear someone suggest that there is hypocrisy involved with MIT's widespread celebration of Smoots as a cute little prank even as it has amped up its hazing policy to an extreme that virtually any activity expected from one group could be classified as hazing. (see

Anonymous about 8 years ago

Better and more efficient lighting of the sidewalks and roadway is a good idea (as long as it's not unpleasantly bright).

But the plan also includes lighting the outside and underside of the bridge. This is light pollution that doesn't serve any purpose.

Anonymous about 8 years ago

The lighting will bring more smiles to Cambridge. More smiles will reduce the light pollution. Aesthetics: Warms the soul and cools the atmosphere!