Michigan Tech Bookbag Memories

bookbag plate

I didn’t know that Tech has a memorabilia display in the Alumni House, but then I didn’t know about any Alumni House.

Attached is a photo of a wall hanging I have and wonder if the university would be interested in this one for the display. It would be donated if there is real interest. On the back it states it was made in Germany. It is mint condition. At auction today, with the right attendance, it might draw several dollars; for insurance purposes maybe in the tens of dollars. I can offer later details on how I came across it.

After receiving a BS from MCMT in Electrical Engineering in 1962,  I stayed on to receive an MS from MTU in Nuclear Engineering in 1963. That makes me somewhat special (Mr. Rodgers told me I was special) in that I have a degrees from MCMT and MTU.

In 1962 we were using book bags.  Their use made a good impression on me that first week at tech.  I thought that tech was a neat place – it didn’t matter how dorky they might look, the fact was they worked. I was certain they weren’t used at U of M or MSU but a tech we were there to learn engineering and what every might help to reach that goal was okay and their use didn’t need apology or explanation.

After my wife, Mary, and I got married on December 27, 1962 she then came to live with me in a second story apartment at 203 Portage St. Our landlord was, Hank Swank,  ran the laundry at the hospital.  During our summer there, Hank tore down a house on the NW corner of Portage and E Houghton to provide parking space for his tenants.  I worked with him on this project.  In the house we found the wall hanging which he gave to me.

I live in Washington State now but every summer I drive (only on the blue roads) to my cabin on Drummond Island.

Alan Hosler ’63, ’63

-Thank you Alan for donating the wall hanging to Michigan Tech. We will display it proudly at the Alumni House. -SW

About the book bags, everyone had them when I arrived at Tech in the Fall of 1962. The 5th year seniors too and theirs were well worn. Thus I feel safe saying that they must have been in use since at least the late 50s. Considering the heavy books we had to carry, the freezing temps and the frequent falls on the ice and snow, it is hard to imagine not having one. [I didn’t mention having to carry a slide rule in them, because they were generally attached to your belt not carried in your book bag although I imagine some were.

Great newsletters!  I keep sharing them with my grandsons [13 and 15] who are considering Tech.

Don Ingersoll ‘67

Great to see this note!  I acquired the first of several in 1977 when I arrived at Tech as an Instructor of Archaeology and Anthropology. They were sold in the Bookstore, manufactured by Duluth Tent and Awning, now Duluth Pack. There is a great history at the Duluth Pack website (https://www.duluthpack.com/history). I always thought that they were made as geological sample bags, and were certainly used for that purpose, but it appears that they were designed in 1912 as shot bags, for carrying shotgun shells. The bag I am carrying these days was also designed for that purpose, but is a little different in shape; they call it the Mini Haversack. After eight years, it is showing some wear. I have worn out two or three of the original Shell bags, carrying all sorts of tools and stuff into the field doing archaeology and traveling around the world: the Caribbean, the Arctic, Australia, Europe, China, Japan, and all over the US. They have done the job for me, even after wearing through on the corners from projecting edges of clipboards and such, and being patched by Mr. Johnson, former owner of the shoe repair shop under the parking deck in Houghton.

Patrick E. Martin, PhD

Research Professor of Archaeology

Yes, I still have my bookbag.

Your comments are a little conservative, as the famous green canvas bag was widely used before the 60s and 70s.

I came to Tech as a freshman in the fall of 1973 complete with a well used bag. It was my father’s that he used as a EE from 1949 to 1953. It served me well during that first year, after which I continued the tradition and purchased a new one. It saw continuous use until my graduation (CE) in 1977.

Today that bookbag still gets used. As a collector car and restoration hobbiest, I take it to swap meets and car shows often. It’s great for holding parts and literature.

Mark O. Lentz, P.E. ’77

I still have my old book bag. I converted it long ago to a fishing equipment bag, in which I carry an extra reel, fishing line, and assorted lure boxes. When I go brook trout fishing I put my fly lures and associated equipment in the book bag. When I go fly fishing, I switch out the fly gear for the spinning stuff in my vest. It is also used to augment and replenish my fishing vest. It also brings back memories.

Tom Rozich ’65 and ’72

I still have my book bag, acquired new from the Tech Bookstore in the fall of 1961.  I know they were common earlier; my cousin who attended Tech in the 1950s had one.

Jim Larson BSME ’65

Yes, I still have my Tech book bag. Used it in the 1960s. Everyone used book bags then.

Robert T Wicklund, BSME 1969

I think you will find that the Tech book bags were in use much earlier than the 70s. One of the first items I bought at the bookstore as a freshman in 1956 was a book bag. As I recall , most students had them. Like slide rules hanging from your belt, they were considered essential equipment. I left mine at home when I reported for active duty with The Corp Of Engineers after graduation and never saw it again as I spent 3 ½ years in France before returning home.

Matt Koski ’60

The bookbag was at Tech long before the ’70s. When I arrived in the fall of 1964, that was one of the first things I purchased at the book store. Everyone had one. I used to pack that thing so full I could hardly carry it but it saved me from having top make return trips to the dorm. These were the days before backpacks where the thing. And yes, I still have mine!

Doug Davies ’69, ’72

I still have my green Tech bag which I still use for hunting, fishing, etc. I bought it at the Union in 1963.

Jerry Myers BSBA 1968

Saw the newsletter story about the “iconic” Tech bookbag.   Here is a picture of one I still have in my closet.  It was the second one I used at Tech (’69 to ’73) after I wore the first one out.  I agree with the “iconic” label.  After I graduated, as a ham radio enthusiast, I found it handy for carrying purchases while I walked around local “Hamfest” flea markets.  More than once, someone would stop me and ask if I had gone to Tech.

I have looked for a replacement bag, but all the ones available from Duluth Bags are a lot fancier and priced likewise.  I would think there would be an interest in that basic bag from Tech Memorabilia store.

Jim Turba ’73 BSEE

Book bags go back at least to the 1950s. It was amazing what you could cram into them.  I remember students carrying them with a T-square sticking out.

In the 1970s I used two of them as saddle bags on my snowmobile.  Great for carrying a couple six packs!  I still have one that I use to carry tools around in.

Chuck Matrosic ’63

I no longer have my book bag, but I can tell you first hand that it was very common in the 1960 to 1964 period (and probably the remainder of the 60s), not just in the 70s and 80s.

Richard Beauregard ‘64

Those book bags were very popular in 1964 and 1965 when I was at Michigan Tech. I no longer have mine.

I assume that backpacks put an end to the Michigan Tech book bags – but have always wondered.

Dave House

BSEE ‘65

Yes I do still have my old “TOOT” Bag, but it finally died of old age and much use as a rock collecting bag both at Tech and after I graduated. Note: I still have not given the remains an appropriate burial because I just cannot seem to part with it.

I found it so good for rocks and light enough that I tried to purchase new ones but I believe they finally stopped making this type. Alas “The back pack” has taken over. However being a Tech engineering grad I made some modifications and found a local firm that used what was left of my “poor old bag” as a pattern and made me several new ones. I had to use white canvas rather than the original Tech green and the leather strap and closure was replaced with nylon webbing material. I also added a wider shoulder pad.

Boy I would have really loved that when I was going to Tech toting all those heavy text books.

Also as a note I am a collector of Copper Country and MTU memorabilia and have many items from the early days of MCM, MCMT as well as a rare sticker for: Michigan College of Science and Technology ( MCST )

That was not adopted on January 1, 1964 (by a quirk of the board) and became MTU shortly thereafter.

Jim Hird ’68 BS ME

Purchased my book bag in 1957.

Bill Roberts 1964

Still have mine that I got as an incoming freshman in 1964 (last class for freshman beanies and other hazing traditions). Slide rule and drafting tools are long gone, however. My book bag is still filled with photo negatives from my years there.

Tom Brunson ’69

I looked for my 1959 book bag but apparently has been discarded. I remember a small hole burned by acid in chemistry lab. The only things I have left are my slide rule, diploma, and many many good memories. Who could forget 8 AM math class at -20 and 6 inches new snow.

Jerry Groeneveld

Chem. Eng. ’63

I attended Tech from ‘67 to ‘71 and my green canvas book bag was almost a permanent fixture of mine. Living off campus, it was about the only good way to take a days worth of books with me, particularly when I lived in the Nutini cottage 6 miles out of Hancock. Alas, mine wore out with the canvas giving out shortly after graduation. The bag knew its service was done.

Dan Schmidt, Met Eng-1971

Those book bags go back into the 1960s.  I used my brother’s bag when I finished my last two years at Tech 1975-1977.  His was lighter green and well-worn.  He graduated from Tech in 1968.

Marietta Ehlers Johnson, BS in Biology, 1977

I still have my bookbag, however mine doesn’t look as good as Dave’s.  It has a few faded addresses written on it, barely can read Wadsworth Hall, 717 Ryan St and 202 Franklin St. A seam or two are coming apart, it’s faded and the leather has seen much better days.  I have almost tossed it out a few times, however it was with me through Doc Berry, Prof Tidwell, snowstorms and a few fender benders.  So it remains on a closet shelf next to my everyday duffle bags and the baseball caps I can’t seem to part with either.

Craig Harju ’73

I graduated in May 1959. Those book bags were everywhere. About 90% used them as I did so the history goes far back of the 70s or 80s

Roger Stokes ’59

This type of bookbag was widely used on the Tech campus in the 1950s and 1960s accompanied by the big leather-cased slide rule !

Best wishes,

Bruce Gall, BS Civil Engrg.-1963

The green book bag was quite prevalent when I was at Tech 1966-70.  And I still have mine.

Camiel Thorrez BSME 1970

I still have my book bag. And it was used in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I graduated in “61”. In fact, I have two of them. The one that served me at Tech was in pretty bad shape, so when we went up for a Winter Carnival a few years after I graduated, I bought a new one. I use it when I go out hunting for turkeys in the spring and deer in the fall. I also use it in the summer when we go to tractor shows to carry when browsing in the sales area to carry small stuff I just have to have. So it is still serving me well.

Andy Robinson ’61

Yes I still have my canvas bag.  It is worn but still worthy.  It carried all my books while at Tech and even served as my laptop case for awhile while I was consulting several years after graduation.

Jim Heim

Class of ’79

Oh yeah! I still have my Tech book bag which I used at Tech from 1961-65. Lots of good memories with it. I still use the bag regularly to carry mail in as our house is 300 yards from the mailbox.  I was fortunate to be at Tech when we won our first 2 NCAA hockey championships. Now that was fun!

Joe Mikols, BSME ‘65

I got mine in 1971 or 1972, since graduating it had been full of softballs and hardballs hanging in my garage. Not quite what was carried in it during my school years.

Mike Robinson- Forestry-1974

Yes!  Probably Circa 1973, the first, 1971 wore out. It is still in good shape and my wife uses it from time to time.

It held all that we needed. Today everyone has a backpack from age 6, the laptop, iPad, kindle, phone, chargers, calculators, water bottles,  etc.,  probably wouldn’t fit today and there is no padding.

It was a great thing. Everyone had one.

Don Beyer ’76

Book bags – remember them well – my shoulder remembers them too! Both my husband Tom’s and mine fell apart many years ago.  Even though they were built very rugged with heavy green denim type material, with a heavy leather strap, they didn’t last forever.  I went through 2 during my 4 years.

They were used way before the 70s.  I got my first one the Fall of 1967 and Tom got his the Fall of 1965.  I’m sure they were used in the early 60s if not before.

I think ours wore out faster because we used them as collection bags when we went agate picking!!

Gretchen Paupore ‘71

The MTU Bookbag is older that  you imply in your article!  There were plenty of well-worn book bags around campus when I arrived in 1958.  My guess is that they are a remnant of WWII, but I guess you will have to figure that out!

Jim Cote’ ’61

I used a bookbag like the one you are showing when I went to Tech in 1954-55.

Robert Wenner ‘59

One response to “Michigan Tech Bookbag Memories

  1. I was only at ‘Tech for one (partial) year, but the book bag was a serious part of the experience. So far as I can determine it had only one source: the bookstore at the Michigan Tech Student Union. I see that someone has determined the manufacturer (Duluth Pack) but their current offering (Large Shell Purse) differs is some respects.

    I got mine when I arrived in the fall of 1961. I quickly discovered that wearing one in Houghton or Hancock would get the occasional Townie drive-by of “Yaaahh, I’m an engineer; Toot Toot” (accompanied by an overhead pumping of the arm in imitation of sounding a train horn). From there to self-identification as a Toot and the sobriquet “Toot Bag” for the book bag itself was not a long road.

    I remember Winter Carnival from that year and the 317 inches of snow that fell. I remember them sanding the streets rather than attempting to plough (and dispose of) all that snow. I remember dropping twenty feet on skis off the corniche at the top of Mt. Ripley to get to the main slope. I remember getting a “bill” from my mother for $15 to reimburse her for the phone call to my girl in Ann Arbor that I charged to our home phone; it said “Ain’t love grand.”

    Unfortunately for my Michigan Tech experience, I was not a dedicated student. I had a girlfriend at UofM in Ann Arbor (almost exactly 600 miles – 12 hour drive – away). At some point I hitchhiked down for a week end – leaving early Saturday morning and returning Sunday evening. This did not leave much time at the far terminus. The next time I left Friday after classes and hoped to return by the time of my first class on Monday. Then ditching Friday and Monday classes and eventually leaving on Thursday and returning on Tuesday. I made a round dozen such trips, and my toot bag was my constant companion. (The 14,000 miles that I hitchhiked was the start of an eventual quarter million miles of hitchhiking that I accumulated over the next four or five years.)

    By March, the administration determined that I was not taking my schooling sufficiently seriously and invited me to drop out, which I did by the simple expedient of not returning – abandoning my possessions (except for the toot bag which accompanied me on twenty or so round trips back and forth across the US). I would occasionally stop for a while and work for a few days, accumulating more possessions until the road called me again, whereupon I would abandon anything that wouldn’t fit in the toot bag and stick out my thumb again. In those five years I doubt that I slept under a roof for more than 50 or 60 nights; it’s called “living rough”. I would just find a sheltered spot and wrap myself in a ragged old army overcoat.

    In the following fifty-plus years I have run across a half-dozen more toot bags and in all cases but one (purchased at a garage sale) I was able to astound the bearer by asserting that he (or she) had been a student at Michigan Tech. In one case it was an ex-boyfriend, but the astonishment was still there. About as often, I was identified and accosted as an ex-Techie by some stranger who recognized my toot bag. Most of these encounters took place all over the country in various of the 40-plus states I visited while hitchhiking.

    I still have my toot bag, although a quick look around the house this morning does not disclose it. I would never throw it away. The leather was getting a bit powdery last time I saw it, but still sturdy enough to go back on the road if I ever get the urge again.
    Peter W. Meek (’65; ex ’62)

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