Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Tech Model Railroad Club

The Tech Model Railroad Club (TMRC) at MIT is one of the wellsprings of hacker culture. The 1959 "Dictionary of the TMRC Language" compiled by Peter Samson included several terms that became basics of the hackish vocabulary (see especially foo, mung, and frob).

It was at the TMRC that the word hacking (and later hack & hacker) was coined.

By 1962, TMRC's legendary layout was already a marvel of complexity (and has grown in the thirty years since; all the features described here are still present). The control system alone featured about 1200 relays. There were scram switches located at numerous places around the room that could be thwacked if something undesirable was about to occur, such as a train going full-bore at an obstruction. Another feature of the system was a digital clock on the dispatch board, which was itself something of a wonder in those bygone days before cheap LEDS and seven-segment displays. When someone hit a scram switch the clock stopped and the display was replaced with the word "FOO"; at TMRC the scram switches are therefore called "foo switches".

Steven Levy, in his book "Hackers" (ISBN 0385191952), gives a stimulating account of those early years. TMRC's Power and Signals group included most of the early PDP-1 hackers and the people who later became the core of the MIT AI Lab staff. Thirty years later that connection is still very much alive, and a recent dictionary of hacker slang accordingly includes a number of entries from a recent revision of the TMRC dictionary (via the Hacker Jargon File).

External links

Based on material from FOLDOC, used with permission.