The earliest nickname for the University's athletic teams was "Pikers", a name whose roots lie in the 1904 World's Fair. The Pike, which ran along Lindell Blvd. between DeBaliviere and Skinker, was the World's Fair's amusement section. After the Fair, when the University moved to the Hilltop campus, the new campus' proximity to the Pike led to the tradition of using the nickname "Pikers" to refer to both athletic teams and W.U. students in general.
By 1920 the term "Pikers" had taken on a different, less complimentary, meaning. Efforts to change the name began in 1923, when Student Life held a referendum on the question. The vote resulted in a 504-106 vote in favor of retaining the Piker name.
On December 18, 1925, Chancellor Herbert S. Hadley held an open meeting of the student body to discuss the issue of an athletic mascot for the school. Several mascots were considered, including the Eagle, the Bearcat, and the Bear. Retaining the name Pikers was also discussed. In the end, the students voted 320-106 to change the name to Bears. An editorial in the December 23, 1925 Student Life reported:
"Many believe [the name change] was a cleverly prearranged affair of chicanery, especially when the city newspapers within eight hours of the vote refer to our team as the Bears. They are convinced when, within twenty-four hours, follows the announcement that a cub has been donated to the University to be used as a mascot ... It does seem miraculous that thirty minutes of oratory could accomplish what years and years of agitation culminating two years ago in a decisive referendum failed to do".
Nevertheless, no second vote was ever taken and our teams have been known as "Bears" ever since. While no longer used in connection with our athletic teams, the name Pikers lives on as the name of our undergraduate men's a cappella ensemble.
The first bear mascot was not a cartoon figure or a student in a bear suit. It was a black bear cub, born in the Canadian Rockies and presented to the university in December 1925 by Mrs. Ruth Waldron Hill. It is not known precisely when the drawing of the Battling Bear mascot seen here was created. The oldest evidence of the cartoon Bear's existence dates from the late 1930s.
Researching all four-year colleges and universities, our sports information office found there are 31 institutions with the "Bear" nickname. This ranks in the top 10 for most common nicknames, with "Eagles" topping the collegiate list. Of all the schools that share our athletic nickname, our logo most resembles that of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. The number one likeness in the two mascots is the sailor cap which rests on both Bear heads. An intriguing question is why the W.U. logo should be depicted as wearing a sailor cap -- a design which makes sense for the Coast Guard Academy, but not for a land-locked institution such as Washington University. The look of the bear's cap also resembles the freshman beanies that used to be a tradition on many college campuses, but the origins of the Bear's hat, like the origins of the Bear himself, remain a mystery.
Despite a different nickname, there is also a familiarity with the logo at Ohio Wesleyen University - The Battling Bishop. The bishop is wearing a cap similar to that worn by the Washington University Bear, and shares the same hostile look. Check out the Battling Bishop logo on the Ohio Wesleyan University Sports Information Page.
The Battling Bear was replaced in 1994 by a new athletic mascot drawn by an alumnus of the School of Art.
Sources: Student Life, December 23, 1925 and November 18, 1949
New Bear Reflects WahU's Own Athletic Identity
The 40-year-old athletic logo -- the scowling bear in the sailor's cap -- has been retired. Replacing it is a new, stronger, more bear-like image that is the culmination of four years of effort by a committee of alumni, students (both athletes and non-athletes), faculty, and staff. The new logo, which is being trademarked, features a partial profile of a bear head with the words Washington Bears as a backdrop. The bear head by itself and a full-bodied bear also are official athletic logos.
The design concept came from Warren Pottinger, B.F.A. '93, who, as a student made sketches that he refined on the computer using feedback from the committee. Stacey Harris, B.F.A. '88, made further refinements.
The old bear did not tie to Washington University in St. Louis very well.
Another problem with the outgoing version was that it was based on logos of other college that share the nickname, and it too closely resembled the U.S. Coast Guard Academy's symbol, right down to the frown and the cap.
"Washington U. is strong enough in its own right to develop and create its own identity," said John Schael, then Director of Athletics since 1978. "Although we all have fond ties with the old bear, it was the right time to introduce a new character."
"As a former student-athlete, I am fond of the old logo," says Mitch Margo, president of the University's W Club. "But with the modern renaissance of Washington U. athletics, it was time we came up with this new identity."
This bear too has experienced some changes of the years.
This is the bear mascot used by Athletics in 2020.