ALL ABOUT PENN STATE: Penn State History & Traditions

Penn State University, located in State College and founded in 1855, has seen countless students come and go over the decades. These students have been instrumental in shaping the history and traditions that many Penn State fans hold near and dear today.

From the very beginning, Old Main was a hub for students. Now serving as an administrative office, it’s one of the university’s most enduring landmarks. Originally built in the 1850s and rebuilt around 1930, this grand building has seen decades of Penn State history unfold on its front steps.

It’s a little-known fact that Penn State’s first unofficial mascot helped build the original Old Main. Born in Kentucky in 1855, a mule nicknamed “Old Coaly” helped haul limestone blocks to the construction site.

Old Coaly stayed on to work at the university and surrounding farms, and he became a student favorite. He was so loved, in fact, that after his death his skeleton was preserved. It’s had numerous resting places around campus, and now resides in the HUB-Robeson Center.

Today’s mascot, the Nittany Lion, got its start in 1904 during a baseball game against Princeton, when he was fabricated on the spot by student Harrison D. “Joe” Mason after being shown Princeton’s famous Bengal tiger mascot. Penn State went on to beat Princeton that day, and the new mascot stuck.

Other well-known aspects of Penn State’s culture evolved around this time. For example, Penn State students adopted the school’s initial colors of dark pink and black in 1890. It wasn’t until after a ribbing from Dickinson’s baseball team, and the realization that pink tends to fade in the sun, that the colors were changed to today’s well-known navy blue and white.

As the decades wore on, traditions came and went, but many stuck. Some traditions, like the Mifflin Streak, which began in 1977, have endured the test of time and continue today.

Newer traditions include Nittanyville, a huge student camp-out held before home football games, and State Patty’s Day, a student-led bar-hopping event originally held to ensure students didn’t miss celebrating St. Patrick’s Day.

Many of these traditions bridge generations and help bring the Penn State community together. We can thank the generations of Penn State students not only for their contributions to their communities after graduation, but for their contributions to Penn State, too.

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