Eye on the Tiger
From Bengal ferocity to Truman furriness, Mizzou’s mascot evolves
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1. The “Strength in Stripes” theme was designed using the 1980 Tiger logo by David Roloff. Image courtesy of the MU Alumni Association/mizzou.com.
2. A postcard from 1908 shows the earliest depictions of the Tiger. Credit: C:22/8/11 Box 1. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
3. An early button shows off Tiger pride. Credit: C:22/8/1 Box 1. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
4. Clearly king of the football field, the Tiger devours its feathered foe after the game. Credit: C:22/8/1. Courtesy University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
5. The new upright Tiger took on a menacing pose, as the logo evolved for the first time. Credit: C:31/00/2. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
6. Although he lacked coloring at times, the Tiger’s message was always clear. Credit: C:31/00/2. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
7. The Tiger was even shown pouncing at times. Credit: C:31/00/2. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
8. A 1925 Savitar shows the live tiger that was displayed at Mizzou football games. Credit: C:1/141/8. Courtesy University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
9. A piece of 1932 letterhead was one of the first to use only a Tiger head. Credit: Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
10. The Tiger in the navy hat was an old one used on cheerleading uniforms long ago, but it has recently enjoyed a comeback on campus via the MU Bookstore. Credit: C:8/18/8. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
11. The old Mizzou scoreboard at Faurot Field, pictured in the 1962 Savitar, showed only the tiger head. Credit: 1962 Savitar. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
12. The Tiger head expanded and became fluffier in time. Credit: Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
13. Cartoonist Charles Schulz of “Peanuts” fame drew his own version of the Tiger for the 1956 homecoming edition of the Maneater. Credit: By Charles Schulz for the November 30, 1956 Maneater.
14. Mizzou used to have two Tiger mascots, a male and female, before switching to a genderless Tiger in 1981. Credit: C:1/139/1 Box 1. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
15. Before getting a facelift into the Truman everybody knows and loves today, the Tiger mascot looked like this from the early to mid ’80s. Credit: C:1/25/24. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
16. This cool cat was phased out in 1980, as the Athletic Department debuted a tiger pouncing toward onlookers. Credit: Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
17. Cartoon tigers such as this were popular on programs through the ’70s. Credit: C:31/00/2. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
18. This was the look of Mizzou through the ’80s and in to the ’90s, along with the symbolic block M on the pawprint. Credit: Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
19. This bandana from the ’80s shows how Mizzou didn’t lose touch with its cartoonish past despite going with a more serious logo. Credit: C:30/21/1. Courtesy of University Archives, University of Missouri at Columbia.
20. Truman, as fans today recognize him, debuted September 14, 1986, in a game against Utah State. Credit: Shane Epping, MU Web Communications.
Throughout Mizzou’s 118 years of playing football, the look of the Tigers has changed drastically. This year’s homecoming shirts, found all over campus before this weekend’s game, feature the tiger logo created in 1980 and used through the late ’90s as part of the “Strength In Stripes” design. Just how much has it changed, though?
In 1890, when the football team had just formed, the University sought an official moniker for it. Several theories about the selection of “Tigers” in the years that followed have floated around, with speculation that Mizzou copied Princeton’s ideals and standards being the most common. However, the nickname originated in the Civil War days. Columbia was threatened by raiders, so the city decided to build a block house on the site of the courthouse and had a militia to defend citizens in case such a raid took place. The militia’s reputation spread, with outsiders getting word that the men were as fierce as tigers. So when time came to select a nickname, veterans suggested the name “Tigers” in honor of the militia that had protected the town. The mascot image first used was of “an escaped circus tiger on the dead run,” according to the Missouri State University Independent.
One of the next changes in appearance took place when the tiger took on a pose, sitting upright and looking off to the left. The image was used on programs in the mid-1910s and through the 1920s. Also in the ’20s, a live Bengal tiger was brought to some games. The 1925 Savitar showed one appearing at football games, though it’s unclear for how much longer this was done. The last recorded use of a live tiger was at the 1970 Orange Bowl, when a fraternity rented one from a circus in Florida for the game.
The full-bodied tiger icons eventually gave way to use of tiger heads in logos. A 1932 letterhead was the earliest version found in the archives, though earlier examples may exist. A costume of a tiger wearing a navy-style hat was worn by cheerleaders on occasion, and the mascot on the scoreboard, as pictured in the 1962 Savitar, was similar to the 1932 version. In 1970, the head expanded and became a fluffier version of its fierce self.
Speaking of fluffy, in 1956, Charles Schulz, of “Peanuts” cartoon fame, drew a cartoon version of the tiger with Charlie Brown and Snoopy, wishing Mizzou fans a “Happy Homecoming!” It first appeared in the Nov. 30, 1956, Maneater and then again in ShowMe magazine in 1957. In the grass directly beneath the tiger’s feet, the name “Walker” was hidden, a shout-out to Schulz’s friend Mort Walker, creator of “Beetle Bailey.”
“Schulz and I started our strips at the same time,” Walker says. “We corresponded, and I found out he was discouraged his strip wasn’t selling while mine was. I invited him to New York and introduced him to all the big-shot cartoonists and got him into the National Cartoonist Society.
“His strip came in last in the readership poll in the NY World Telegram. I told him how my two strips (“Beetle Bailey” and “Hi and Lois”) didn't start well, either, until I made major changes. I put Beetle in the Army, and I made Trixie a star by letting people read a baby's mind. Schulz went back and developed Snoopy so that he became a vulture, a lawyer, an airplane pilot, etc. His strip took off and never stopped.
“All of us in this business help each other without any jealousy. It's a great fraternity.”
In the '60s, Tiger mascot costumes made a debut. Dressed in a cloth body costume and a papier maché head, the first mascot worked to rally crowds at Mizzou games. The solo tiger gave way to a male and female tiger referred to as several different names, such as “Tiger Mo and Mrs. Mo” or “Tiger and Little Tiger.” In 1981, in a cost-cutting maneuver, according to the Missouri Alumnus, the two were left behind for a new, genderless tiger to serve as the lone mascot. In 1984, the cheerleaders held a contest to officially name Mizzou’s mascot. The name “Truman,” honoring former President Harry Truman from Missouri, won in a landslide. A new image, design, material and colors were developed, and on Sept. 14, 1986, the current Truman made his debut in a game against Utah State.
The '80s also saw a large change to the standard tiger. In 1980, it went from what looked like a breakfast-cereal-character nemesis to a powerful beast leaping toward the onlooker. That, along with the "M" pawprint, became constant symbols of Mizzou until 1999, when the new powertiger look became the athletics logo.
Today’s tigers are a beloved part of Mizzou’s imagery, though with time, things could change again. Truman, who won the title as the NCAA’s Best Mascot in 2004, is now 22 years old and could get a facelift. The powertiger, viewed as futuristic at its launch, could be seen as dated 10 years from now.
Whatever the look, there will always be strength in stripes.