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Rearview Mirror: Up With the White, Gold, and Ramblin’ Wreck

Before there was the podcast Scions of the Southland, there was the Alma Mater. And so on.

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With the football season upon us, we’re taking a break from the winding journey through Tech history to examine a couple crucial ornaments of gameday that have been iconic tenants of the Southern, even national, football landscape since before their words first escaped Frank Roman’s pen and blotted a paper now lost to the shifting sands of time. And ever since they were first transcribed, let alone before their international fame and cultural integrity were cemented, they have become an integral part of what it means to see football on the Flats and cheer on the Yellow Jackets.

“Georgia Tech has always been a school without fads or adornments of leisure. The goldfish swallowings, record chewings, panty raids, and bed-pushing races that have swept the other colleges of the country in the spring have never made much of impression on her campus. But Tech does have a rich heritage of traditions that is purely her own. There is nothing at any other college in the world like the Ramblin’ Wreck song or the Reck parade or George P. Burdell or even Sideways. And, like most lasting traditions, Tech’s were not planned,” (Wallace, 103).

Wallace said it best, but Tech has always laid claim to what could easily be called the most robust set of unique traditions anywhere, period. While some of these traditions are annual, like the Freshman Cake Race and the Mini 500 at homecoming - the latter of which having not existed until six years following the publication of Wallace’s Dress Her in White and Gold, speaking to the ever-changed vibrancy of the fabric of living history Tech is lucky to be cloaked with - semesterly, like Midnight Bud or putting pennies on Sideways’ grave, apocryphal, or omnipotent like the Whistle and the Ramblin’ Reck itself, perhaps the most famous marks of Tech outside of the verdant campus sprouting from a hill near North Avenue are the set of songs that have come to define not just gameday, but Tech itself.

Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech

There are two schools of thought on the origin of the melody for Tech’s fight song. One says that the music came from the march “Bonnie Blue Flag,” written by the seceding states during the Civil War, and another that cites Charles Ives’ “Son of a Gambolier,” an adaptation of the similarly-styled drinking song from the British Isles. One of those camps is wrong, but both are linked here, so feel free to listen and discern for yourself. For those curious as to the opinion of the School of Music, here’s the Tech Symphonic Band playing the version they accept as the source.

If that’s not enough, here’s the lyrics to “Son of a Gambolier,” which is almost certainly proof enough that it is truly the basis of what is known today as “I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.”

Come join my humble ditty,
From Tippery town I steer,
Like ev’ry honest fellow,
I take my lager beer,
Like ev’ry honest fellow,
I take my whiskey clear.
I’m a rambling rake of poverty,
And a son of a Gambolier.

I wish I had a barrel of rum,
And sugar three hundred pound,
The college bell to mix it in,
The clapper to stir it round;
I’d drink the health of dear old Yale,
And friends both far and near.
I’m a rambling rake of poverty,
And a son of a Gambolier.


As noted on the “Song of America” website, a Gambolier is “someone who decides to have fun irresponsibly (usually through gambling and drinking).” Seems apt.

Sources also conflict on the exact origin of the song’s use at Tech, but this time, there’s not a fairly discernible answer. Sports Illustrated cited a member of the inaugural graduating class of 1892 as having first sung it on campus just after the school opened, though another didn’t recall any instances of it. In a similar vein, some claim that it was written by a football player on his way to play Auburn. It is known that the phrase “rambling wreck” had been used to describe the team in the news reports following the train crash on the way home from that inaugural win in Athens, so it isn’t out of the question that this colloquialism could have spread as the school grew. A member of the class of 1908, Dan MacIntyre, established that early versions of the song were indeed sung when he entered Tech as a sub-apprentice and long retained a copy of the original manuscript written up by Tech’s first band director, Michael Greenblatt. This arrangement, which was deposited safely back at Tech some time in the fifties, along with a thick stack of other materials related to his time at Tech, differs greatly from what we know today, but, nonetheless, it’s a start.

The somewhat well-known ancient lyrics, adapted as the school’s fight song in 1905, were published in the 1908 Blueprint under the title “What Makes Whitlock Blush” and were as follows:

“I wish I had a barrel of rum and of sugar three thousand pound,
A college bell to put it in, and a clapper to stir it round.
Like all good honest fellows, I take my whiskey clear;
I’m a rambling wreck
From Georgia Tech,
And the — of an engineer.
Oh, if I had a daughter sir, I’d dress her in white and gold,
And take her on the campus to cheer the brave and bold;
But if I had a son, sir, I tell you what he’d do —
He’d yell like — for the Georgia Tech, like his daddy used to do.
I’m a — of a, — of a, — of a, — of a, — of an engineer;
I’m a — of a, — of a, — of a, — of a, — of an engineer;
Like all good honest fellows, I take my whiskey clear;
I’m a rambling wreck
From Georgia Tech,
And the — of an engineer.

(Owing to the melting of the type, it has been impossible to print the parts of the above song represented by the blank spaces.)” (Blueprint, 1908)

Greenblatt was succeeded by Frank “Wop” Roman, who wrote the arrangement that has more or less lasted to the present day. Roman and Tech received the copyright in 1919 and the song went on to become famous around the world via a myriad of mediums. In 1920, it became the first song broadcast as a “radio dance,” but more on that will come later with the history of radio at Tech - thanks to the comments for shining some light on that. It was one of the first major hits on the young communications platform. In 1953, the Georgia Tech Glee Club sang the song as well as the Alma Mater on the Ed Sullivan show - censored to say heck and heckuva to appease Sullivan. Six years later and an ocean away, American vice president Richard Nixon and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev sang the song to reduce the tension. The story goes that Nixon didn’t know any Russian songs, but Khrushchev remembered Ramblin’ Wreck from when he saw it on the Ed Sullivan Show. Before it became the first song played in space, it was also featured in several movies, including by John Wayne in The High and Mighty and Gregory Peck in The Man in the Flannel Suit, and more than one source recalls singing or humming it as his landing craft crossed the waves on imminent approach to a D-Day beach. Suffice it to say, the song has traveled.

Up With the White and Gold

It took a lot to delve into the controversy that surrounds the origin of our secondary fight song like former From the Rumble Seat contributor BirdGT and fellow SB Nation site California Golden Blogs did back in 2010, but, thankfully they started the research process. I might as well come out and say it - I don’t think we stole the “Stanford Jonah” from the University of California, Berkeley and I think that the Californians use roundabout logic to justify their case.

As noted by BirdGT more than eight years ago now, the first appearance of the song on the Tech side of the country came in the 1916 Blueprint, meaning that the song was sung at least as early as 1915 by students. California claims an origin date of 1913, but, whether the song remained the same is uncertain. What is sure, though, is that the posited theory by the sister site in California - that the California Glee Club went on a European tour, stopping in several cities along the way and that Tech and Cal had some sort of Glee Club mixer - is tough to prove, at best. The published stops were Reno, Winnemucca, Elko, Ogden, Salt Lake City, Omaha, Council Bluffs, Chicago, Ann Arbor, Philadelphia, Rome, and New York City, which were all stops along the Union Pacific and Pennsylvania Railroad mainlines, and all far from Atlanta, in a time where long-distance travel was by rail, when radio wasn’t yet in use, during an inconvenient time of year. The odds are long. But how did the song get written? The fact is we don’t know the real answer. All three men credited with writing “Up With the White and Gold” were in the club at or before the 1913 Californian publishing date. The “Stanford Jonah” was a rarely used piece of music in the run up to the infamous Rose Bowl of 1929, let alone its almost-dereliction today. The prominent use of the word “axe” in both songs, referring to the famous axe passed between the winners of Cal and Stanford’s annual Big Game in their version, seems to add some finality to it, but three letters does not a case make.

There is one thing that is known to be true: the most common theory, that the two schools exchanged fight songs at the 1929 Rose Bowl - “Ramblin’ Wreck” for the “Stanford Jonah” - is patently false. Both had proof of possessing the latter dating at least a decade before that game. Heck, California has some evidence of using a song based on “Son of a Gambolier” before Tech even existed. But there remains a reasonable case for both Tech or Berkeley being the origin of the latter song, though, with how much “Up With the White and Gold” changed from its original draft in its early years and how famous Frank Roman was for his artistry in song, perhaps all this searching for the source distracts from the likelihood there’s a very real chance it was a sort of musical cross-pollination between the two somewhere along the line.

The thing is, schools are influenced by each other all the time. Montana cites Tech in its use of the melody for “Up With the White and Gold” for its much stranger, to put it nicely, version. That’s not to mention the extensive list of schools that use or have used “Son of a Gambolier,” some of which predate Tech, or even “Ramblin’ Wreck” as the inspiration for their fight song, schools like Dickinson College, Colorado School of Mines, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Ohio State University, Rensselear Polytechnic Institute, and even the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. Tech’s version, of course, remains the most famous. But schools give and take all the time - like how this author’s high school alma mater gave the University of Illinois its colors and “borrowed” “Illinois Loyalty” in exchange. It’s the nature of the sport.

The Georgia Tech Alma Mater

The refreshing thing, though, about the Alma Mater is that there is no question where the Alma Mater came from and who wrote it. Roman wrote the music in 1922 and the words were penned by I. H. Granath, a member of the Class of 1923, and were selected after winning a contest in The Technique. And such is the end of the story, unlike the literal legions of schools that use “Annie Lisle” as their alma mater, from Cornell to Alabama, and Indiana to that resort in Dirty Dancing.

The Tech Alma Mater, seen below, is an important yet underrated song. It often gets lost in the hullabaloo, sandwiched in the middle of the band’s pregame show and only played once per game, and never at any other sports, for whatever reason, but it’s unique and it speaks to what sets Tech apart.

“Oh, sons of Tech, arise, behold
The banner as it reigns supreme,
For from on high, the white and gold
Waves in its’ triumphant gleam.
The spirit of the cheering throng
Resounds with joy revealing
A brotherhood in praise and song
In mem’ry of the days gone day.
Oh, scion of the Southland,
In our hearts you shall forever fly!”

The power of the word scion shouldn’t be underestimated. Georgia Tech was created to be the newest and best thing this state had to offer to education. Tech was set apart. It was to be the most promising outlet and teach the best minds the state and region had to offer. To this day, it creates the next. The rest is more self explanatory, but the spirit rings true. Georgia Tech is a family, a proud one at that, one we are all fortunate enough to be a part of. A noble scion, striving ever upward.

Meanwhile, those schools that use “Annie Lisle”? Yeah, there are more of them. You’ve probably heard of Colorado State, Indiana State and East Tennessee State University. Likely Lehigh, Kansas and Missouri, too. Our old friends in Nashville, the Commodores, and those orange purveyors of airballs from Upstate New York use it too. Closer to home, so does Mercer, as well as the Eagles across town at Emory. But the least creative school in the whole identical flock? You already know. That school up the road in Athens. Because of course they are.

That 2010 From the Rumble Seat article summarized the “Up With the White and Gold” debate, saying,

“Now, the reason Tech’s fight songs are longer and more lyrical versus other less than creative fight songs was because Tech’s Glee Club was the elite club after its 1908 founding...And since the Glee Club (and band) leaders needed songs of musical value, they wrote the lyrically fun and boisterous fight songs that we know today in “Up with the White and Gold”, the Alma Mater, and “Ramblin’ Reck from Georgia Tech” to build up a school spirit-driven repertoire,” (BirdGT, 2010).

Of course, with the elimination of the Glee Club following the war, it fell to others to pass on the fight songs. Of course, the band kept playing them, and for a time RAT Rules were held firmly in place - it was mandatory that freshmen learn them. Even though enforcement of RAT rules is now illegal, that does not diminish the pride Tech fans feel in knowing, singing, and experiencing the fight songs. They bring the fanbase together - students, alumni, faculty, fans of all stripes and stories - and are a hefty part of the pageantry and interconnectedness that truly makes American higher education different from anything else in the world. Tech, after all, is a family.

“Nobody sat down and said, ‘I think I’ll write a famous college song and I’ll call it ‘I’m a Ramblin’ Wreck from Georgia Tech.’ ‘ It, like the rest of the important traditions, just happened,” (Wallace, 103).

A special thanks to Dress Her in White and Gold, Engineering the New South, the brand-new 2018-2019 edition of the Georgia Tech T-Book (shoutout to the student editor Jo’De Cummings for sending one my way) and the Georgia Tech Archives for the background information and images used in writing this column.

If you have any events or ideas you would like to see investigated, leave a comment below. Two days until gameday! Until next time - when we’ll be back to the antics of Heisman and his Golden Tornado - go Jackets!