The staff of the Rensselaer Archives has digitized more than a century of The Polytechnic student newspaper. The Poly archive is available online through the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Digital Collections, and can be searched by date or keyword.
The archive offers a window into the way Rensselaer students saw themselves and their Institute through history.
The earliest editions of The Poly include challenging math problems, news from other universities in the Northeast including Harvard, Yale, and Cornell, short fiction, poems, alumni news, athletic scores, and social news. The advertisements offer the finest apothecaries, boot makers, tailors, and hatters.
A 1924 edition describes festivities for the Institute’s centennial, which included a keynote speech from then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, five years before he took office as the 31st president of the United States.
The Dec. 13, 1967, edition offers a review of a concert The Doors played on campus as part of Frosh Fling Weekend: “Instead of setting the house on fire, Jim (Morrison) failed to even break the ice. He seemed disgusted with the whole scene at the end and showed how he felt when he cried, ‘If this is Troy, I’m with the Greeks.’ ”
Throughout the years, stories in The Poly touched on historical moments and revealed the way they impacted campus life. Editions published during World War II indicate that degree programs were condensed to allow students to complete them before being called up to war. Those editions also share news of alumni fighting overseas.
The lead story of the Sept. 15, 1942, edition reveals another ripple effect of World War II on the Institute: “Rensselaer Breaks Long Standing Tradition; Opens Registration to Women for First Time,” the front-page headline announces.
The story quotes Institute secretary-treasurer (and future president) Livingston W. Houston as saying that it was necessary to admit women “due to the need to train women scientists and technicians to replace men called to war.”
Would-be female applicants waited anxiously as administrators considered whether to admit them. “As RPI administrators were making their decision on the women student question, three women applicants waited outside the door for an answer,” The Poly story continues. Today, nearly 30 percent of all undergraduate and graduate students at Rensselaer are female.
Issues of The Poly from 1885 to 1976 can be searched online by anyone. An earlier iteration of The Poly that only lasted for one semester, the fall of 1869, is also available in the archives. Because some syndicated content is still protected by copyright, issues of The Poly from 1977 to 2001 can only be accessed on campus or with a current Rensselaer login.
The staff of the Institute Archives is now working to add to the archive recent issues of The Poly—dating from 2002 to today—that were produced digitally.
The digitization is part of an ongoing effort to both preserve and make accessible the newspaper archives. In 2001, the fragile newspapers were preserved on microfilm. Then, the 41 reels of microfilm were scanned by Hudson Microimaging using optical character recognition so the entire archives can be viewed, and all the text searched, online.
In a post on the RPI History Revealed blog, archivist Tammy Gobert writes that, in total, about 2,800 issues and more than 41,000 individual pages were digitized in this process.