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Pink and Black: The History of Penn State’s Original Colors

For anyone who has ever attended a football game in Beaver Stadium, completing the following Fight On, State cheer is an easy task: “Victory we predict for thee. We’re ever true to you, dear old…”

The rest of the chant is, of course, white and blue. But these colors haven’t always been our own. Until 1890, Penn State’s colors were dark pink and black. Those were adopted in October 1887 after a committee of three, composed of a representative of the sophomore, junior and senior class, was appointed to present solid and combination colors to the student body.

One of the three students charged with choosing pink and black, George R. Meek, Class of 1890 and editor of La Vie, wrote: “We wanted something bright and attractive but we could not use red or orange as those colors were already used by other colleges so we chose a very deep pink – really cerise – which with black made a very pretty combination.”

The student body unanimously adopted the colors. If we’d kept these, the infamous Penn State student section would be a sea of pink and black. We may still have this cheer, which was adopted in 1888: “Yah, yah, yah. Yah, yah, yeh. Wish-Whack. Pink, black. P.S.C.” (P.S.C. is an abbreviation of Pennsylvania State College, which is what Penn State was called until 1953 when President Milton Eisenhower won permission to elevate the college to university status.)

So why did we adopt the colors blue and white two and a half years after the student body chose pink and black? The available records on this subject are not extensive, but according to documents found in the university archives, the reason was two-fold: The color pink faded to white after a few weeks in the sun, and the school’s baseball club was mocked for its pink and black uniforms by an opposing team.

The baseball club led the movement, according to the records of Dr. F. J. Pond, Class of 1892 and faculty member from 1893-1903. Their effort stemmed from embarrassment over the school colors during a game in 1888 or 1889.

The team was playing Dickinson on its front campus, as there wasn’t an athletic field yet. The club sang its cheer, to which the substitutes on the Dickinson team made a parody. Dickinson’s version of the chant went something like this: “Yah, yah, hay. Yah, yah, yeh. Bees wax. Bees wax. A.B.C.”

This so disgusted the team that they believed not only should the official chant change but also the school colors. It became more apparent that the school should adopt different colors when the pink faded to white on school apparel.

Meek, the same student who helped choose pink and black as the school colors, had a Philadelphia company make flannel for the student body in pink and black stripes, as well as blazers and caps. He bought them on his own and sold them to students. After three weeks in the sun, the pink faded so the school colors looked white and black.

Once it was realized pink was not a “fast color,” Meek wrote in a letter filed in the university archives, there was widespread support among the student body for a color change. The decision to make the colors navy blue and white was made official in March 1890.

Now you know.

About the Author

Jessica Tully

Jessica Tully is a first-year law student at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law. She graduated in May 2014 with degrees in journalism and political science.

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