Colors.

Colors. Princeton's orange and black came into use soon after the Civil War. On April 5, 1866, a freshman named George K. Ward 1869 observed at a class meeting that many other colleges had their distinctive colors but Princeton had none, and he suggested that orange would be appropriate since William III of the House of Nassau, in whose honor the first building had been named, was also Prince of Orange. His suggestion met with instant favor with his classmates but failed to win general approval in the other classes. Ward persisted, however, and a little over a year later, on June 26, 1867, when his teammates in the Class of 1869 Base Ball Club assembled at Princeton Junction for their trip to New Haven to play the Yale Class of 1869, he provided them all with badges of orange ribbon with ``'69 B.B.C.'' printed on them in black ink. It proved an auspicious occasion for the first recorded use of Princeton's colors. Sporting their badges, the team had a pleasant trip by train to New York and overnight on the steamer ``Elm City'' up Long Island Sound to New Haven; heard a speech by President Andrew Johnson who was making a tour of New England and happened to be in New Haven; came from behind with two runs in the ninth inning to win, 19 to 18; and, still wearing their badges, had supper with their Yale opponents at a New Haven hotel where the Yale players magnanimously sang ``Oh, here's to Nassau Hall / For she's bully at baseball!''

More general and formal use of Princeton's colors came a year later. In response to a petition from all four undergraduate classes, the Faculty on October 12, 1868 resolved to permit students ``to adopt and wear as the College Badge an orange colored Ribbon bearing upon it the word `Princeton.''' Two weeks later at the inauguration of James McCosh as eleventh president of the College, such badges, arranged for by the Class of 1869, were much in evidence and the use of orange (with black printing) became official.

The combination of orange and black was accidental and the two colors were not associated in the undergraduates' minds until the fall of 1873 when a freshman named William Libbey, Jr. 1877, on a dare from his classmate Melancthon W. Jacobus, sported a necktie made of yellow and black silk which he had seen advertised in Cambridge, England, the preceding summer, as ``The Duke of Nassau's colors.'' His wearing of the necktie was used as evidence to prove Princeton's prior right to the colors to a committee from Rutgers that had become interested in orange and black. The following spring, Libbey arranged through his father, a New York merchant, for the manufacture in a Paterson silk mill of a thousand yards of orange and black ribbon for use at an intercollegiate rowing regatta in Saratoga, N.Y., on July 15, 1874. He gave pieces of the ribbon to members of the freshman crew for hatbands and sent the remainder to a store in the Grand Union Hotel at Saratoga, three miles from the lake where the races were rowed, to be sold as ``Princeton's colors.'' When the Princeton freshmen won the first race, the Class of 1877 commissioned one of its members, who happened to have with him a very fast trotting horse, to hurry to the hotel to buy up all the ribbon, but by the time he arrived every inch had been sold.

Thereafter orange and black appeared in the attire of athletic teams and in 1888 as the title of a song that soon won a place in Princeton lore. In 1896, the year of the Sesquicentennial the trustees adopted orange and black as the official colors for academic gowns despite a plea by Professor Allan Marquand 1874 that Princeton's colors be changed to orange and blue, which he had discovered were the true colors of the House of Nassau (and of the Netherlands whence New York City gets its orange and blue). Professor Marquand made a strong case for his proposal, on aesthetic as well as historical grounds, but by now too much sentiment had been attached to the colors that had been in use for several decades to permit giving them up. ``It matters not whether we got them by accident or design,'' the feeling was said to run, ``We have them, and will never change them, so long as eye and voice can unite in praise of `dear old Princeton and the Orange and the Black.'''


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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