Happy Birthday, Bucky!
Learn about our beloved mascot’s history as he turns 79 this week
When you say Wisconsin, you’ve said it all. And when you say Bucky Badger … well, you’ve defined Wisconsin. This week, we’re celebrating Buckingham U. Badger’s 79th birthday! (We know. He doesn’t look a day over 29.)
Bucky’s official birthday is October 2, 1940. At least, that’s the date that the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., copyrighted his likeness. However, the concept of the badger mascot started five decades earlier.
The University of Wisconsin borrowed the name “Badgers” from the state of Wisconsin’s own nickname. Surprisingly enough, the Badger State wasn’t named so after the adorable (read: vicious) mustelid: rather, after the lead miners of the early 1800s. The Galena lead mines bordered Illinois, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Instead of trekking back home after a long day at work, the miners lived in temporary caves that they dug into the hillsides — thus earning them the name “badgers.” This nickname worked its way back to Wisconsin; it’s people; and eventually, the entire state.
As intercollegiate football was introduced in 1889, the UW team needed a mascot. Enter the badger. They first used a live badger but he proved too ferocious to control, often escaping and terrorizing the sidelines (not unlike our present-day Bucky). For the safety of everyone involved, this badger was retired and moved to the Madison Zoo.
It wasn’t until 1940 — the year of his “official” birth — that the first drawing of Bucky wearing his signature cardinal and white sweater appeared. Nine years later, he came to life as a full-size mascot.
In 1949, UW art student Carolyn “Connie” Conrad designed the first ever papier-mâché mascot head, which cheerleader Bill Sagal ’51 was the first student to wear. Bucky came to life at the 1949 Homecoming game, under the direction of then-homecoming chair Bill Sachse ’50.
It took several years for the badger to be named, and he was called everything from Buddy to Bernie to Bouncy. A contest was held to lock down his name, but Sachse later admitted to the Wall Street Journal that the contest was rigged so that “Bucky” would win. Buckingham U. Badger kicked off the 1949 football season, alongside the Badgers new coach, Ivy Williamson.
Bucky stayed strong through the sixties, until 1973 when he was almost replaced. Then-assistant attorney general Howard Koop argued that Bucky Badger should make way for Henrietta Holstein — because “kids love cows.” Clearly, it didn’t catch on.
What began as one student in a papier-mâché badger head has turned into a living legend. Now, there are at least six students on the UW Spirit Squad responsible for maintaining Bucky’s celebrity. He attends hundreds of events each year: from football games to community events to weddings. Since 2002, Bucky Badger has attended the UCA College Mascot National Championships, placing his highest — 2nd place — in 2008. Bucky also made his film debut in 2009 with the documentary, Being Bucky.
That’s a pretty big resume for a Badger, if you ask us. And we’re guessing that’s he’s just getting started.
Allow us to be the first to wish you a happy birthday, Bucky! Don’t forget to share your birthday wishes with @UWBuckyBadger on October 2. After all, it’s not every day a badger turns 79.