The Purdue Big Bass Drum is a percussion instrument played by the All-American Marching Band of Purdue University. At a height of more than ten feet (three meters), it is branded as the World's Largest Drum, although it is no longer officially the world's largest according to Guinness World Records. Since its inception, it has become a lasting symbol of the marching band as well as the university. The drum can be seen at all home football games as well as parades, alumni rallies, the Indianapolis 500 Race, and many other special events. It is stored within the Purdue University Armory when not in use.
Though the drum easily towers ten feet high on its carriage, the exact dimensions of the drum itself are a closely held secret known only to the crew members. The instrument is nearly four feet (one and a quarter metres) wide and about eight feet (two and a half metres) in diameter. Many of the original components, the carriage, axle, wheels, and wood shell of the drum are all intact and well preserved. Since its trip to Ireland with the "All-American" Marching Band in the spring of 2013, the drum has been remastered with new paint and select new parts to replace ones damaged on the trip. The carriage is built upon a Ford Model T back axle and wheelbase. The rims are steel wire spoke rims common during the 1910s in the racing circuit.
The drum is handled by a crew of four chrome-helmeted bandsmen, who are selected for their strength and agility, along with two beaters. They painstakingly rehearse every movement of the "Monster" drum to assure its being in the right place at the right time in accordance with the split-second timing necessary for the fast-paced shows presented by the "All-American" Band.
In 1921, Purdue Marching Band Director Spotts Emrick commissioned the Leedy Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis, Indiana, to produce a massive bass drum. Other bands were trying to make large drums at the time, but most could only achieve a diameter of about four feet. The main constraints included finding cattle skins large enough to use for drum heads, and carrying the drum both during and in between performances. After months of searching, Leedy's suppliers solved the first problem by finding steers weighing between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds each, which are said to have been from Argentina. These large heads put a great strain on the shell, requiring special reinforcement rods to be designed. While other marching bands had tried having two people work together to move their large drums along the football field, Emrick and Leedy decided to use a wheeled carriage. After contacting Jesse Lemon of the New York Central Railroad, Emrick was able to find a baggage car with a door large enough to accommodate the Monster.
The Purdue Drum's first football game was at the University of Chicago, whose band members immediately contacted Conn asking for an even larger drum. The resulting instrument was completed the following year and later sold to the University of Texas at Austin where it was nicknamed "Big Bertha." Whether Big Bertha is actually larger than the Purdue Drum is still debated.
The drum was refurbished in 1937 when the natural wood finish was replaced by an old gold diamond pattern and several inches were added to the drum's size. By the time Al Wright became Purdue's director of bands in 1954, the Big Bass Drum had been neglected after years of damage. Wright had the drum repaired and once again made it a centrepiece of the marching band. Because large cattle were much rarer than they were when the drum was built, Remo began making Mylar drum heads for Purdue in the early 1960s. These synthetic heads can be changed frequently.
While the drum may have been the world's largest in overall size at the time it was constructed, other drums have claimed the title of world's largest, such as the Millennium Drum. However, no official comparative measurement has ever been made. In 1961, the University of Texas and Purdue University chapters of Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary band fraternity, pledged to bring their drums to the national convention in Wichita, Kansas for a direct comparison; however, only Purdue showed up.