Today, the iconic, 150-foot-high dome at the center of MIT’s campus may be known for the creative things the school’s crafty students have hoisted up onto it, but the “Great Dome” has always served as a symbol of the school’s spirit of innovation.
Constructed in 1916, the 100-foot-wide expanse was the architectural crown of MIT’s “New Technology” campus on the Charles River. Thirty years later, as MIT scientists developed radar systems to help Allied forces win World War II, administrators worried that light shining through the dome’s 32-foot skylight made the school an easy target for enemy planes, so they covered the window. Of course, it was that decision — which transformed delicate glass at the top of the dome into a solid surface — that prepared the structure for some of the school’s most notorious pranks. Over the years, students have hoisted a campus police cruiser, a piano, and a replica of the Apollo lunar module on top of the dome, always leaving passersby wondering, “How’d they do that?”