Dear Mr. Mudd,
What is the origin of the Princeton Tiger? Which came first the tiger or his stripes?
In 1992 the Office of Communications produced a photo essay concerning this very topic! The answer is that Princeton adopted the stripes long before the actual tiger!
Here is an excerpt from that essay:
On October 12, 1868, the faculty of the College of New Jersey (later to be called Princeton University) passed a resolution permitting students “to adopt and wear as the college badge an orange colored Ribbon bearing upon it the word Princeton,” thus simultaneously keeping alive the college’s historical association with the Royal Dutch House of Orange while publicizing the unofficial college name, Princeton.
But even earlier—June of 1867—Princeton baseball players wore orange ribbons with black writing (’69 B.B.C.) at their match with Yale. At a Sarasota regatta in 1874, members of the freshman crew wore hatbands of black and orange silk ribbons. And for its 1876 football game with Yale, Princeton’s team proudly wore black jerseys with an orange P on the chest.
During the celebration of Princeton’s sesquicentennial in 1896, the trustees not only changed the college’s name to Princeton University but also adopted orange and black as the official colors for academic gowns. The design reflects the tiger’s colors though not its many stripes; yet, undoubtedly a tiger’s heart beats beneath these conservative robes. For several years college cheers had contained the rallying cry of “tiger,” and orange and black were growing in use as the school colors Sportswriters of the day started to call the players “tigers.” The tiger and its colors began to appear in college songs, student publications, and even the name of an eating club. Then they showed up carved in stone, beginning most conspicuously with the large tigers placed atop the gateposts between Little and Blair halls in 1902. Very permanent tigers were cropping up on buildings all over campus.
By 1911 the tiger had become so firmly established as the University mascot that the Class of 1879 replaced the pair of lions that had flanked the doorway of Nassau Hall… with the regal tigers that still guard the entrance, acknowledging the tiger as a unifying decorative element on campus.
Lions at the entrance to Nassau Hall – Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings, Box MP81 Image 3306
Tiger enthusiasm reached new heights in 1923 when the father of Albert Red Howard ’25 captured a young Bengal tiger while on an expedition to India and sent it to Princeton as a mascot. In the end, the combination of community anxiety and the cost of care led to the tiger’s ultimate transfer to a New Jersey zoo, but it was not the last live tiger to saunter through the Princeton campus.
Since the 1940s, a less-alarming live tiger has appeared regularly at Princeton football and basketball games or at least an anthropomorphized one. Dressed in forty pounds of faux fur, flowing tail, and padded paws, countless Princeton students have donned the tiger suit to entertain sports crowds and socialize at various events. In 1973 a few years after women were first admitted to the University, a tigress accompanied the well-known male mascot for the first time, distinguished by orange bows on her head and tail. Today, with the novelty of coeducation long past, there is only one tiger that entertains children, rallies school spirit, and gets chased by members of the opposing team’s school. In the end, one tiger is symbolically fitting: one tiger for one Princeton.
Tigers at Nassau Hall 1911 – AC111 Box MP71
The University Archives has a plethora of images, documents and tiger references. In the Historical Subject Files, Box 393, one can find an article by the former Keeper of Princetoniana, Frederic Fox ’39.
Within this article Fox notes that the “Tiger did not come to Princeton easily.” Officially the tiger’s entrance came about due to members of the Class of 1879, though originally those classmates of Woodrow Wilson preferred lions. In 1889, their 10th reunion, they gave the University a pair of lions because it was the emblem of the royal house of Orange-Nassau.
These two lions flanked the entrance to Nassau Hall and were attributed to the French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty. However, in the 1990s it was determined that they were produced by the now-defunct J. L. Mott Ironworks, a company that sold zinc statuary and bathroom fixtures through catalogs. The lions stood guard at Nassau Hall from 1889 to until they were removed in 1911. The current tigers by the artist A.P. Proctor were presented to the university by the Class of 1879 in 1911, with the lions moved to the steps of 1879 Hall, where they stood for about 60 years before moving into storage. They were re-discovered in 1998 in the basement of Palmer Hall, restored and placed back in public view (see final article in link). Today the they can be seen on the steps heading from Goheen Walk to Wilcox Hall.
Here at the archives we have a copy of the Proctor tiger that guards our card catalog in the public area.
We also have this furry unofficial Tiger friend to greet you at the front desk, courtesy of our former employee, Matt Reeder!
Historical Photograph Collection, Campus Life Series, circa 1850-1996
Historical Photograph Collection, Grounds and Buildings Series, circa 1850-1980
Historical Subject Files Collection, 1746-2005
Leitch, Alexander. A Princeton Companion, (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1978). Also available online.
Princeton Alumni Weekly Photograph Collection, c. 1968- c. 1991
Princeton Memorabilia Collection, c. 1782-2000
Princeton Music Collection, 1849-1982
Princetoniana Committee: Campus Traditions, History, and Lore sections on The Tiger.
Smagorinsky, Margaret. The Regalia of Princeton University: Pomp, Circumstance, and Accoutrements of Academia. (Princeton, New Jersey: Office of Communications and Publications, Princeton University, c. 1994).
“Tigers prowl around the Princeton campus.” Web story and photo essay.
View more photos from the Historical Photograph Collection: Grounds and Buildings Series online here.
Princeton Alumni Weekly article, February 8th 2012, Why Tigers?
For more about tigers on campus see this article.
Excerpts from this post have been adapted from the FAQ written by Susan Hamson (2003)