Feature: September 13, 1995
"TIGER! TIGER! TIGER!"
FOR WELL OVER A CENTURY, the tiger has been celebrated as a symbol of Princeton. According to Frederic E. Fox '39, the late Keeper of Princetoniana, students adopted a "Tiger Cheer" from a Civil War regiment marching through town, and by the 1870s they were claiming orange and black as the school's colors.
The Class of 1879 preferred the lion because it was the emblem of the Royal House of Orange-Nassau, and on graduating it commissioned a pair of bronze leos for the Nassau Hall steps. But most student sentiment continued to run in favor of the tiger. In 1880, Princeton football players began sporting striped orange-and-black jerseys. Noting that they played like tigers, sports writers started calling them that, and before long, undergraduate songwriters took up the tiger refrain as well. Clarence Mitchell '89 penned "The Orange and the Black," which ends with the line about the tiger as "defender" of the school's colors.
In 1896, when the College of New Jersey celebrated its 150th anniversary, the trustees changed its name to Princeton University and adopted orange and black as the official colors. That same year, "The Tiger Rocket Cheer" (later known as "The Locomotive") first resounded off the campus's ivied walls:
Tiger Tiger Tiger
siss siss siss
boom boom boom
Princeton! Princeton! Princeton!
As an undergraduate, Kenneth Clark '05 wrote the "Princeton Jungle March," as well as other Princeton songs showcasing the tiger. In 1906, J. F. Hewitt '07 and A. H. Osborne '07 collaborated on the composition of "The Princeton Cannon Song," which features the tiger's roar in both refrain and verse. By then, several campus organizations proudly bore the tiger name: The Princeton Tiger, the campus humor magazine founded in 1882, and Tiger Inn, an eating club dating from 1893. For its 1930-31 production, the Princeton Triangle Club performed The Tiger Smiles, its first musical show with a Princeton setting, featuring Jimmy Stewart '32 in a lead role.
In 1910, with the tiger securely established as the university's symbol, the Class of 1879 commissioned sculptor Alexander Phimster Proctor to design two regal bronze tigers. Installed in 1911 on the steps of Nassau Hall, they have guarded its entrance ever since. (The lions were removed to 1879 Hall, and are now in storage.)
Other tiger sculptures and carvings have proliferated on the campus. They are, as a university booklet notes, "variously serene, ferocious, recumbent, rampant, defensive, aggressive, roaring, smiling, asleep, awake," but "nearly always noble." In 1902, a pair of tigers holding shields were posted between Blair and Little halls. Two tigers on a buttress appeared on the north side of McCosh Hall in 1907. In 1969, two massive bronze tigers-an anatomically correct male and female in this first year of coeducation-were installed between Whig and Clio halls.
On Palmer Square sits yet another massive bronze tiger. Eight-and-a-half feet long, it was designed in 1944 by artist Charles E. Knight on a commission from the classmates of charter trustee Edgar Palmer '03. For many years the concrete model from which the bronze was cast graced the grounds of the Devereaux Estate, in Rye, New York. In 1983, through the efforts of Gordon R. Brown '43, Robert A. Winters '35, and Hugh deN. Wynne '39, the one-ton model was moved to Princeton and refurbished by the Class of 1943 as its 40th-reunion gift to the university. It is now in the lobby of Jadwin Gymnasium.
Football halftime shows for years have featured an undergraduate or two dressed in tiger suits. Fred Fox may have been the first, and his costume was made from the skin of an actual Bengal tiger, supplied (courtesy of his father) by a New York furrier. Blanche Rainwater '95 is the latest in a series of tigresses who have strutted their stuff since the coming of coeducation 26 years ago.
Live tigers appear in Princeton history, too. In 1899 and again in 1902, Henry Fairfield Osborn '77, a paleontologist who later became president of both the American Museum of Natural History and the New York Zoological Society, donated a tiger named Princeton to the Bronx Zoo. Another tiger, born at the same zoo in 1949, was christened Princeton at the suggestion of this writer, then a member of the zoo's staff. From 1928 to 1941, the Philadelphia Zoo was the home of a beautiful Siberian tiger named Princeton. In 1923, the father of a Princeton football player, Albert Howard '25, donated a live tiger to the university as a mascot, but after several weeks of mounting anxiety on the part of university and town officials, it was given to a zoo. Live tigers also put in the occasional appearance in P-rades, most recently this year.
-Robert M. McClung '39