George P Burdell

When I have a spare minute or two, I’ll use the “random page” feature on Wikipedia to see if anything interesting comes up. I got a laugh out of the entry for George P Burdell.

Burdell is a fictitious character whose name is still being used nearly 80 years after his creation. The credit for George P. Burdell’s origins goes to William Edgar “Ed” Smith, when he accicdentally received two enrollment forms for Georgia Tech in Atlanta.He filled in one enrolment form for himself, and for a joke decided to fill in the second form for a non-existent student. In a 1977 interview, Smith said that he originally intended to enroll his high school principal, George P. Butler, but decided against it and changed the last name to Burdell, the maiden name of his best friend’s mother.

After enrolling him, Smith signed Burdell up for all the same classes he had. Smith would do all schoolwork twice, changing it slightly to avoid professors catching his sham. When he had a test, he would take it twice and then turn it in under both names.By 1930, Burdell had earned his bachelor’sand, only a few years later, received his master’s degree.

Fellow Georgia Tech students and alumni then got in on the prank, using Burdell’s name is many varied areas. These included:

  • Member of a B-17 bomber crew in the USAF, flying missions over Europe during WW2;
  • Announcing Burdell’s engagement in 1958 to Agnes Scott College student Romana Cartwright  in the Atlanta Constitution;
  • Listing as a director of “Mad” magazine between 1969 and 1981;
  • When “Time” magazine was attempting to select their Person of the Year for 2001, George Burdell was the leading candidate (holding at least 57% of the votes) until the magazine removed him from the running;
  • In 2000, George was the alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Georgia.
  • When the antenna was replaced on the transmitter for the Georgia Tech radio station WREK, someone made sure that George was commemorated on the antenna mast:

DSC08639

  • When John T Roberts published his book “The Law-Governed Universe” with Oxford University in 2008, a footnote on page 122 read “My thanks to Professor George P Burdell for his help with the translation”.
  • One of the characters in Manson Case’s 2008 “Legions Now Quiet, the Civil War Novel” is called George P. Burdell, who would return to his home in Atlanta.
  • Douglas Flamming credits George P Burdell as one of several Georgia Tech students who did research for his 2006 book “Bound For Freedom: Black Los Angeles in Jim Crow America”.

    Despite many attempts by administrators at Georgia Tech to remove Burdell’s name from class lists or university staff, he is still listed on the faculty of the George W Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering.

    I think that all of us should make the effect of keeping George “alive”, and adding to his impressive list of achievements. If you need an ID for the Internet and social media, then you can’t go past George P Burdell!

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