Friday, June 10, 2016

A Very Special Time Capsule

Spilled beer (brown), now dried
In the world of Special Collections, legends of strange items occasionally drift through the office -- books bound in human skin (no, we don't have one), seal harpoons (yes, we do have one of those!), and other tantalizing snippets. This past week, we rediscovered one of the most Dartmouth-y time capsules ever: a beer can.

During the 1970s, Dartmouth was rapidly changing with women and computers improving campus life. Computer programmers developed Dartmouth's time sharing system, where multiple persons could make use of Dartmouth's computers at the same time. It was completed in the winter of 1977, and the programmers decided to create a lasting time capsule in honor of their creation. They chose a can of Miller beer.

The label on the can reads:
This time capsule was placed in the Kiewit Basement on 26-Feb-1977 to be opend [sic] in 100 years on 26-Feb-2077. The Sysprogs wish you greetings. 
The holes
Sysprogs is a common abbreviation for "systems programmers." Each of the programmers on the project signed  his or her name on two labels on the other side. Many signed their class years after, showing that many students from the class of 1980 were involved with the project.

In May 2005 (only 28 years in!), we discovered that the archival box was -- horror of horrors -- getting moldy. Our Collections Conservator Deborah Howe suspected a leak from the full can of beer. She drained it via two small holes at the bottom of the can.

Today, you can view the can (and the other items in the box, like a small statue of Paul Revere and a super old-school hard drive), by asking for DA-181, Box 4271.


  1. I'm glad to know Special Collections is taking good care of it.

    I forget the details of how it came about, but that's my writing, and I remember it.

  2. Cool--I am glad you remember it. Somehow, it is no surprise that the details may be a bit hazy!