The Story of Orange and Blue


Black and Gold ribbon from Illinois Industrial University, 1884

Black and Gold ribbon from Illinois Industrial University, (renamed UI in 1885), 1884

From its founding in 1867 until fall of 1894, the University of Illinois struggled to commit to school colors.

Professor Winton Solberg writes in his history of the University:

For years, uncertainty existed as to the University colors. Many different color combinations had gained recognition, with the Athletic Association making the selection. For a long time old gold and black were accepted, but they were common in other colleges and therefore not a distinguishing mark of Illinois. In the early 1890s, when the athletic coach was from Dartmouth, Dartmouth green was a favorite color. 1

In 1894, UI President Andrew Draper and students met the issue head-on.   Both felt that the University needed a “rallying point” for college activities. Furthermore, the new Engineering Hall was almost completed and the celebration required a colorful display.

Responding to a call (read here) from the editor of the student newspaper the Illini, Draper appointed a faculty and student committee that subsequently suggested orange and white with green on the athletic field as the new colors. An Athletic Association committee reviewed the choice and the combined committee decided on navy blue and orange.2

Draper presented the proposal (read here) to the October 24 student convocation which voted unanimously in favor of adoption.3  The faculty concurred and the decision became official on November 6, just in time for the dedication of the new Engineering Hall.4

An ad from the 1895 Illio listing blue and orange inventory

An ad from the 1896 Illio listing blue and orange inventory

Faculty, staff, students and alumni were quick to adopt the new colors. Even businesses got on board by promoting their orange and blue inventory5

One hundred and eleven years later, Draper’s words to the 1894 student convocation are still meaningful:

I congratulate you on the selection [of blue and orange] for they represent much.  Blue is the emblem of steadfastness and stability.  Orange has come down to us through 200 years of history.  It was the color under which the world’s first great battle for liberty was fought.  May they long be held aloft and be proudly triumphant, not only on the athletic field but in the field of literature and of science and of art.6


The Siren, 1912

The Siren, 1912

1 Solberg, Winton U. The University of Illinois 1894-1904: The Shaping of the University. (Urbana and Chicago: UI Press, 2000) 271.

2 Ibid, 271-271; Illini, September 1894.

3. Illini, November 1, 1894.

4. Daily Illini, November 15, 1894

5. Illio, 1895

6. Illini, November 1, 1894

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