The official mascot of the Boilermakers is a replica of a Victorian-era locomotive. Conceived by a Purdue student in the 1930s to exemplify the engineering and agrarian heritage of the university, the first Special was provided by a group of alumni working in executive positions in the rail and automotive industries. Boilermaker Special I made its debut on the first day of classes in 1940.
The president of the Studebaker Corporation in South Bend, donated a 1940 Studebaker chassis to the university.
Next the president of the Purdue Alumni Association and vice president of Baldwin Locomotive Works in Pennsylvania agreed to build the superstructure for the mascot. With designs by an alumni and through changes in the chassis by Ross Gear and Tool Company and the Peter Anderson Motor Company of Lafayette, the chassis arrived in Philadelphia on September 3, 1939. There, the Boilermaker Special was completed.
Alumni, students, faculty and staff have raised funds throughout the years to replace the Special as it has worn out - in 1953, 1960, 1993 and, most recently, in 2011.
The Special returned to campus in July of 2011 as Boilermaker Special VII. Lafayette semi-trailer manufacturer Wabash National took the lead in providing materials and labor to update the Special, and a Navistar 4600 chassis was part of the upgrade
Why are Purdue students and alumni called Boilermakers?
In 1889, Purdue's football team traveled to Crawfordsville, Indiana, to play Wabash College, whom they defeated 18-4. Wabash students and the people of Crawfordsville were devastated by the defeat. According to one correspondent from the era, the town began referring to the Purdue team as "a great big burly gang of corn-huskers," "rail-splitters," "foundry molders," and "log-haulers."
Over the next few years, Purdue's reputation did not dim, and when their team gave Wabash College a 44-0 drubbing in 1891, the local press wrote wildly about the carnage. One sports writer for the Daily Argus headlined his story "Slaughter of Innocents," with the line under that reading, "Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue."
From 1891 to 1897, the fully operational steam locomotive, The Schenectady, was on hand for research, placed in a newly established locomotive laboratory. It was one more step in the development of Purdue as one of the world's leaders in engineering teaching and research.
At every home football game the Xtra Special leads the team on the field.