On Saturday, November 17th, 2012, at 7:00 p.m., we went back to Cannon Green to re-light a fire that has been dormant for six years, the BONFIRE!


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The bonfire is one of the oldest traditions at Princeton University. The Princetoniana Committee, part of the Alumni Association, describes the fire as “one of the most memorable– and sporadic– of all traditional Princeton activities.” The celebratory fire occurs only after the Princeton football team has defeated both Yale and Harvard.

“According to tradition, the construction of the Bonfire rested with the Dink Wearing Freshmen. It was their responsibility to gather wood from the surrounding area, often aided in large part by townspeople and campus construction workers. Once a tall pyre had been placed in the center of Cannon Green, the final adornments usually included an outhouse and an effigy of John Harvard or a Yale Bulldog, or both.” – Princetoniana Committee

Here we showcase just a few of the many historical photographs of bonfires that are in the Princeton University Archives, housed here at the Mudd Manuscript Library. The following reside in the Historical Photograph Collection: Campus Life (AC112)  and the Office of Communications Records (AC168).


Remnants of the 1897 bonfire


Gathering the materials for the 1901 fire.


A large pyre for the 1914 fire

Students turn away from the heat of the flames during the 1946 fire.

Students turn away from the heat of the flames during the 1946 fire.


From 1948: the outhouse is shown with Yale Bowl painted on the side


Football coach Charlie Caldwell ’25 and team captain George Chandler ’51 lighting the bonfire in 1950.

A closer look at the outhouse from the 1952 championship event.

A closer look at the outhouse from the 1952 championship event.


Huge flames during the 1981 bonfire.

Huge flames during the 1981 bonfire.



Students watch the 1985 fire from the trees.



The Princeton Tiger lights the 1994 bonfire.


The most recent fire in 2006. Photo courtesy: John Jameson, Office of Communications

PAW Photo from 2013 - Credit - Beverly Schaefer

PAW Photo from 2013 – Credit – Beverly Schaefer

Princeton Pause also compiled a video from the 2006 fire featuring items from our archives.

More photographs can be viewed in person by visiting the Mudd Reading Room. Digital copies of photos are also available. Start your search with our Historical Photograph Database. 

If you are attending and sharing photos using Twitter or Instagram, please use the hashtag #bonfirePU and contribute to documenting the history of this wonderful event!

Please also feel free to leave a comment about your bonfire memories!

Early films of Princeton football, 1903-1951

The oldest known silent movie of a Princeton football match is a four minute recording of a Yale-Princeton game, shot at Yale’s stadium in 1903. The film, which was produced by the company of Thomas A. Edison, inventor of the motion picture camera, is held at the Library of Congress and can be viewed online. Featured below is the oldest football film in the Princeton University Archives and also one of the oldest films in our entire audiovisual collection: a recording of the 1919 Princeton-Harvard match at Palmer Stadium. It is interesting to compare the annotated movie, shot from just one spot in the bleachers, with two newsreels of matches in 1941 and 1951, when the excitement of the game could be captured in movement as well as sound.


While Thomas Edison’s cameraman in 1903 tried to capture the excitement of the game with a variety of shots and angles, the unknown cameraman who shot this 1919 Princeton-Harvard match was anchored to one spot. His aim was just to film the highlights, resulting in this annotated 25 minute film of the game on November 8, 1919, which ended in a 10-10 tie. We do not have any information about the context of this film. The earliest references to the practice of filming Princeton football and other events date from the early 1920s. The Princeton University Archives holds some football films from 1928, but most films found in the Football Films collection date from the 1950s forward. (Additional newsreels of games from the 1950s will be posted at a later date.)

The 1941 football newsreel, which captures Princeton’s loss to Pennsylvania 23-0, includes footage of the traditional tearing down of the goal post after the game (1:18). The second newsreel captures Princeton’s 5th game of 1951, which ended with a 53-15 victory (mistakenly announced as 53-14) over previously undefeated Cornell (01:44). The game has been called the ‘finest hour’ of Dick Kazmaier ’52, who was voted “All American” in both his junior and his senior year, and won the Heisman trophy as the player of the year in 1951.

These films are part of the University Archives’ Historical Audiovisual Collection. The 1919 film is a 16mm film (item no. 0166) and the newsreels were found on a Betacam 30 video capture of the original newsreels (item no 1344).