RETROSPECT: St. Patrick was an engineer?
CSE Week, the college’s seven-day celebration of barbecues, student group activities, and friendly competition, is more than 100 years old. Its origins, however, can be traced back about a decade prior—and involve a mystical Irish stone, the School of Mines, and a few failing physics students.
Legend has it that on March 16, 1903, University of Minnesota engineering seniors discovered the sacred Blarney Stone during an excavation on the Twin Cities campus. The stone was engraved with the phrase, “Erin go Bragh,” which the students declared could be loosely translated to “St. Patrick was an engineer.” The real translation is “Ireland to the end of time,” but “St. Patrick was an engineer” has a better ring to it, right?
From that day forward, engineering students at the U of M would pay homage to their patron saint on St. Patrick’s Day each year.
The celebration was officially dubbed Engineer’s Day, or E-Day, in 1914. The main attraction was a knighting ceremony in which students were given the opportunity to kiss the sacred stone. Later, the Plumb Bob Honorary Leadership Society—a student group born out of their mutual failing of a U of M physics course—were tasked with guarding the Blarney Stone for the rest of the year.
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See the action from E-Week 1954 in this video.
Find out more about IT Week in this 1986 Technolog article.
The valiant “Plumb Bobbers,” as they were called, had to fend off thieving attempts by students in the School of Mines—at the time a separate U of M college that trained future scientists in the field of mining. At one point, the mining students did get their hands on the Blarney Stone and crushed it at a local quarry. The clever engineering students, however, insisted that was a fake stone and the real one remained safely hidden on campus.
In the 1950s, E-Day and its humble Irish traditions evolved into Engineering Week, which included “chariot races,” the crowning of an E-Day Queen, and eventually in 1969, homemade car races down Church Street. Engineering Week became IT Week in the 1980s, and the fourth iteration, Science and Engineering Week or CSE Week, has been around since 2011.
Clockwise from top left: 1932 Engineer’s Day Parade; the 1943 St. Pat, Caroll Martenson, and his queen, Laurel Anne Lein; a bed race in E-week 1981; forestry rivals (in green hats) driving in the 1965 parade; A wedding on a parade float to celebrate E-day’s golden anniversary in 1960; Professor Emeritus John Akerman at a 1930 aeronautical engineering display.
Above left: A huckstering student in 1953 selling the traditional green hats worn by men from the Institute of Technology (to distinguished them from other UMN students in crowds). Above center: A snowfight in 1956. Above right: Plumb Bob students protecting the blarney stone from thieves in 1963.