The History of the Purpling

Why is purpling such a popular engineering tradition?

On Friday, September 30, Lassonde’s Engineering Society gave students the opportunity to be the next Kool Aid man…

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Purple is definitely one of the better Kool Aid flavours, anyway…

But why is this a tradition we partake in? Is this a “hazing” technique to initiate and welcome students into the horrors of engineering and the dreadful all nighters?

Actually, quite the opposite.

Engineering schools in Canada (especially Ontario) share many engineering traditions, such as the iron ring. As we know, engineering is a profession heavily mandated by the Professional Engineers of Ontario, so engineering itself is a title that is held with a high level of respect. There are many different variations as to why purple is the colour of engineering – some actually go to the extent of proving the scientific value of purple – but the main reasons are to honour our fellow predecessors of engineers who have committed many big sacrifices. A common story is that during the Titanic sinking, the engineering crew on the ship (who coincidentally wore purple overalls?) did everything they could to keep the furnace running in order to create smoke. The smoke could be seen kilometres away and helped locate themselves to other ships to get help. The entire engineering crew of the Titanic went down as a consequence.

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Get yourself an engineer, not a Rose. They won’t let you go.

Another popular theory is that in the mid-nineteeth to mid-twentieth century, some of the most valued and respected members within the British Navy actually belonged in the Engineering Corps (who coincidentally also wore purple armbands to identify themselves – a trend?).

They incessantly did everything to ensure that their ship’s passengers remained safe and comfortable. In the process, the salt from their own sweat and the ocean caused the purple pigment to seep out and stain their arms purple. When a ship was sinking, these brave engineers always stayed below in order to save as many lives of others as possible, and as a result, they were often the last ones off or went down with the ship.

The Cannon

Like the iron ring in Canada, purple is a reminder to all engineers of the history and responsibility of their profession. As these engineers in history have created an impact in our society, it is also our duty as young professionals to hold that responsibility and professionalism to the fullest as we commemorate – and most importantly learn – from our mistakes.

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Theresa Nguyen is a second year Mechanical Engineering (w/ dual specialist in International Development) student. She has a passion for science, biology, films, design, fashion, international relations, politics, world issues, and all things cool. She is currently the Editor in Chief of Lassonde Media Group, and is afraid of ketchup.
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