Glance at the plaque of MIT benefactor George Eastman. It’s easy to notice that his face is a dull bronze and his nose has been rubbed to a golden sheen. The nose-rub is an MIT tradition. For decades, students have rubbed Eastman’s nose for two specific reasons: good luck, and the inversion of bad luck.
Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak Co., anonymously contributed $7.5 million to MIT from 1912 to 1920. Known as “the mysterious Mr. Smith,” his identity was revealed in 1920.
Eastman passed away in 1932 and the plaque, located in front of Room 6-120, was unveiled in 1934. The first official nose-rub-for-luck is unknown. According to a 2002 MIT News article, the tradition was strongly in place by the late 1950s.
From MIT News:
“The nose was shiny when I was an undergraduate,” said William J. Hecht (S.B. 1961), vice president and CEO of the MIT Association of Alumni and Alumnae. Hecht admitted he did not join the crowd in front of the plaque when he was a student. “By the time finals rolled around, I usually was in so much trouble that nothing would help,” he quipped.
Unfortunately, the tradition appears to be waning. An unscientific poll taken in front of the Eastman statue during peak nose-rubbing season–the first day of spring 2012 final exams–yielded zero unsolicited rubs. Students were vaguely aware of the plaque’s significance, but hadn’t participated in the tradition.
“I think I remember hearing about it, but I’ve definitely never rubbed his nose before,” says Alexander Mentzelopoulos ’14. “And I walk down this corridor all the time.”
Others were outright dismissive. “I’m aware of the tradition but have never sought it out for luck,” doctoral candidate Richard Baumer says. “I really don’t believe that buffing the nose of the statue will have any effect on anything I do.”
Is the Eastman plaque a lost tradition? Most importantly, has it ever brought you good luck? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.