Podcast: Secrets of the Caltech Cannon Heist

by Jay London on April 29, 2016 · 3 comments

in Alumni Life, Campus Culture, Hacks, Modern Geekhood, Podcast, Remember When...


On the morning of March 28, 2006, a group of young men dressed as movers arrived on the Caltech campus in Pasadena, CA, armed with phony work orders and a moving van with a custom-designed logo of the nonexistant Howe & Ser Moving Company. Within hours,  the crew departed with the college’s two-ton Fleming Cannon in tow. And eight days later, the 130-year old cannon—a remnant of the Franco-Prussian war—reappeared 3,000 miles away on MIT campus, with a massive 24-karat gold-plated Brass Rat on its barrel.

In this episode of the Slice of MIT podcast, you’ll hear from the MIT hackers involved in the infamous Caltech Cannon Heist, which happened 10 years ago this month. (Read excerpts from the interview.)


Caltech’s Fleming Cannon on the MIT campus. Image via hacks.mit.edu.

Howe & Ser, it turns out, were MIT students who had just carried out perhaps the longest-distance MIT hack of all time. The prank, which was retribution for a series of hacks Caltech had successfully carried out at MIT a year prior, received national attention and was featured in the Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and Washington Post. And in 2014, the MIT community voted it their second-favorite hack in MIT history on the Slice of MIT blog.

You’ll hear how long it took to plan; how they convinced Caltech security that they were legitimate movers; how they moved a two-ton cannon across the country; and what happened when Caltech students arrived at MIT to reclaim their cannon.

Featured Guests

BalesJim Bales
Associate Director and Instructor, MIT Edgerton Center

Bales is the instructor for the center’s 6.163 Strobe Project Lab. In 2013, he gave a TEDx presentation on how to capture images of splashes.

17d3206David Barber
MIT Security and Emergency Management Office

Barber is an expert on MIT’s hacking culture and the unofficial liaison between hacking students and MIT administration.

Slice_Post_2Howe & Ser Moving Company*
Established 1861

According to its website, Howe & Ser Moving is “assertive, low-key, and willing to go the extra 3,000 miles to ensure a bang-up job.”

*—Complying with MIT’s hacking ethos, the hackers will remain anonymous.

Listen to podcast above or on the Alumni Association’s SoundCloud page. And don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes and rate the podcast and leave a review. Tweet your thoughts on this episode to @mit_alumni.

This podcast was produced in association with the Edgerton Center, a resource hub for MIT students that honors the “learning-by-doing” legacy of Professor Harold “Doc” Edgerton. Find out more at edgerton.mit.edu

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael April 29, 2016 at 12:05 pm

Nice article, but spell check and proof read it! “cannon” instead of “canon”; “nonexistent” instead of “non-existant”. Plus, the hyperlinks are sloppy: “uccessfully carried out at MIT” instead of “successfully carried out at MIT” (the ‘s’ is missing in the hyperlink). The sloppiness of the article is in direct contrast to the detail-orientation of the hacking team.


Jay London April 29, 2016 at 12:13 pm

Hi Michael, thanks for reading!


vicsar May 16, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Great podcast. Fine anecdote.


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