The History Of Wisconsin's Bucky Badger Explained

In the world of college sports, there's something poetic about Big Ten schools. The conference is one of the oldest in Division I sports and its member schools along with its mascots are iconic.

The University of Wisconsin has been a member of the conference since it first came into existence back in 1896 according to the Big Ten's official website. And for the entire school's history, its mascot has been a badger.

In the very early days of the school, the mascot was an actual badger, as opposed to the loveable mascot fans see on the sidelines today. However, according to the University of Wisconsin, the original tradition of a live animal didn't work out too well. The badger oftentimes would escape handlers tasked with controlling the animal, putting those nearby in dangerous situations.

Though the original badger was a vicious animal quite literally intimidating people around it, the furry omnivores were not actually the inspiration for the school's mascot name.

Wisconsin's nickname of "The Badger State" actually comes from the state's lead miners of the 1820s according to The Culture Trip. Back in those days, miners would toughen out harsh winter days by creating tunnels in the mountainsides and using those as temporary shelters. It was that badger-like lifestyle of "burrowing in the hillside" that earned the miners the nickname of "badgers."

The Bucky Badger of today

Bucky Badger as we know him today first came into existence back in 1940, though his actual name, "Bucky," would come years later. Various iterations of the badger existed before then, but the version of him in a Wisconsin sweater was first imagined by professional illustrator Art Evans according to the school's official website. Evans created the logos for other iconic Big Ten Schools including Minnesota and Purdue according to The University of Wisconsin Alumni Association.

Bucky Badger's official birthday was designated that same year by the Library of Congress. Following Evans' drawing, Bucky's likeness was given a copyright on October 2 of that year. And fans of the mascot can celebrate his birthday each year on that date.

But it took nearly a decade for the 1940 Bucky illustration to come to life. It wasn't until 1949 when a student wore a badger outfit with a papier-mâché head at that year's homecoming game that the mascot that we recognize today was born. The head was created by a student in the school's art department. The mascot outfit was worn by a gymnast who was also one of the school's cheerleaders.

Though the mascot had come to life, the badger still didn't have an official name. The community knew the badger by several nicknames like Benny, Buddy, Bernie, Bobby, and Bouncey. But in 1949, the school had a contest to give the badger an official name. And the winner was "Buckingham U. Badger." Of course, he's simply known as "Bucky" for short.