Various cannons have been used off and on for years at Virginia Tech — in fact cheerleaders started a 1938 football game against Washington and Lee by firing a cannon. In the 1960s one industrious student formally proposed to the student governing body that a cannon be acquired to fire at football games, and the proposal was approved but went no further.
About the same time, two cadets from the class of 1964 made a pact at a traditional Thanksgiving Day game with then-archrival Virginia Military Institute (VMI) that they would build a cannon for Virginia Tech (then known as VPI) to outshine — or outblast — VMI's “Little John.” The cadets, Alton B. “Butch” Harper Jr. and Homer Hadley “Sonny” Hickam (of "October Sky" fame), were tired of hearing the VMI keydets chant, “Where's your cannon?” after firing Little John.
Harper and Hickam collected brass from their fellow cadets, added it to metal donated by Hickam's father, collected donations from the corps to purchase other supplies, and used a mold created in one of the engineering departments from Civil War-style plans to make their cannon. They derived the name of the cannon, “Skipper,” from the fact that President John Kennedy, who had just been assassinated, had been the skipper of a PT-boat, and they wanted to honor him.
On first firing Skipper at the next game with VMI, the eager cadets tripled the charge, blowing the hats off a number of VMI keydets and rattling the glass in the press-box windows of Roanoke's Victory Stadium. They never heard the VMI chant again.
Learn more about Virginia Tech traditions.