The True Origin of the Old Tiger Head Logo


tigerheadhistory1Back in February of 2012, I reluctantly wrote about what was believed at the time to be the true origin of the old tiger head logo that has recently made a resurgence with vintage collegiate clothing and collectibles. The logo has been used by Auburn, LSU, Princeton, Pacific, Missouri, and many other schools who call themselves the Tigers, the 2nd most used mascot in all of college sports (eagles are first). We can’t all be red water.

In short, I referenced an article written by an LSU student claiming that the logo was created by a W.A. Prescott of Brewton, Alabama, who was also an Alabama graduate. The article goes on to claim that Prescott moved to Baton Rouge during the 1930’s where he opened a family bookstore and created the old tiger head logo for LSU. At the point of me writing it, the dates, images, and backstory made it plausible that our beloved and widely used vintage tiger head logo was created by an enemy for another enemy. It hurt.

As I thought about it more, though, I realized that story made no mention as to how other schools would have picked up on and used the logo without any connection back to LSU.

Enter this article, written a year later by Dick Anderson of Occidental Magazine, that specifically refutes the story I originally posted. I’ll let you read the article for the full rundown, but I’ll give you a few highlights. It starts laying out the most well-known teams that have used the logo.

To alumni of the University of the Pacific in Stockton, he’s known as “Tommy Tiger.” Auburn University’s legions of football fanatics refer to him as “Aubie.”The nation’s 33rd president and Show Me State native provided the moniker for “Truman the Tiger” at the University of Missouri. But to devotees of Louisiana State University, he’ll always be “Sailor Mike.”

Feature3.6_ArthurEvansAs far as where the article claims this widely-used logo comes from, Anderson states that the tiger was a creation of a guy on the West coast named Arthur Evans. Evans was one of the most unheralded cartoonists of the time, but was responsible for dozens of mascot caricatures beginning way back in the 1920’s.

One of his first jobs was to create a new tiger for Occidental College in Los Angeles. He created Oswald, which you know as the old tiger head logo, but with “OXY” on his hat instead of the Auburn “A.” Evans’s work ended up getting into the hands of a businessman who took his portfolio across the country.

Unlike the original article, Anderson’s includes extensive research and quotes linking the creation of the logo back to Evans.

Arthur Evans—head artist for the Angelus Pacific Co. of Fullerton from 1932 until his retirement in 1977— [was given] the moniker of “Most Prolific Cartoonist,” reporting that he was responsible for at least “90 percent of the college mascots” being used at the time. “Art Evans is a legend around here,” longtime Angelus office manager Jean Ruppe is quoted as saying. “Colleges and high schools would send a rough idea of what they wanted, and Art would get busy and come up with a sports mascot.”

“Your Oswald was drawn by Arthur Evans—Dad always said you could tell Arthur’s work by the eyes,” says Tim Waddell, president of Angelus since 1993 … But as to where he appeared first—well, that’s anybody’s guess. “Back when your tiger was originally done, nobody had even heard the word licensing,” Waddell says. “If Art drew a good tiger and somebody wanted a tiger, we used it.”

Yes, Waddell basically says that they don’t know what school used it first, but given that Arthur was literally a few miles from Occidental College, it’s a pretty good assumption that it started there. It definitely didn’t start in Baton Rouge, or Auburn, or New Jersey.

Anderson’s article then goes on to reference my original post’s claim of Prescott being the creator:

The resurgence in popularity for some of Evans’ classic creations suggests that newer isn’t necessarily better. And more than 70 years after his creation, feelings for Classic Oswald run deep among his many suitors.

There’s no supporting evidence to suggest that Prescott had a hand in the creation of the logo; in its own literature, Angelus refers to the image as the “Auburn Comic Tiger.” But part of the appeal of Sailor Mike to LSU fans “is that it was one of the primary tiger marks used during a very successful period for LSU athletics which included the university’s first football national championship [in 1958],” says Brian Hommel, director of LSU Trademark Licensing.

Wait, did you see that? The Angelus Pacific Co. of Fullerton, which employed Evans as their head artist, calls the image the “Auburn Comic Tiger.” That’s interesting. If this was LSU’s logo, as the original article and most LSU fans claim, wouldn’t it be called Sailor Mike? Again, this is the company that was responsible for hiring the man who created it. They would probably know. It sounds to me like LSU wants to claim it just because they were good at the time the logo became popular.

When it comes down to it, there is no clear answer on who the logo was created for, but we can be sure it was not made for LSU or by an Alabama graduate. It most likely started at a small college in Los Angeles, only a few miles from the Arthur Evans, and made it’s way East.

If the company that employed the creator calls it Auburn’s, it could be Auburn’s to claim, but I’m fine with letting Oxy have this one, as long as we can keep using it. Especially since my gameday shirt this year features Oswald/Aubie and is currently 3-0.

Now, don’t you feel better about all of those old tiger head t-shirts and hats you’d felt bad about wearing for the last 18 months? Wear them with pride. I’ll be wearing mine in Baton Rouge tomorrow night. I might even tape OXY over the A. Well, let’s not go that far. Occidental College probably has a terrible football team.

OH WOW. Just checked and they lost their 2013 season opener 67-30… to the Pacific University (Oregon) Tigers, most likely one of the first teams outside of Occidental to use the logo. This is too weird. That had to be awkward…

Update: a commenter points out that the University of Pacific (Stockton, CA) used the old tiger head logo, not Pacific University. So yeah, not as awkward.