City Cast

How Madison Became the Home of the Badgers

Hayley Sperling
Hayley Sperling
Posted on October 2
Bucky Badger runs out of the tunnel to lead the team onto the field durning a college football game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Wisconsin Badgers on October 2nd, 2021 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, WI

Bucky's legal birthday is Oct. 2, 1940, when his likeness was copyrighted with the Library of Congress. (Dan Sanger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The badger has been UW-Madison’s namesake mascot since 1889, but Wisconsin was actually dubbed the “Badger State” decades prior, and not because of animals in the region.

In the 1820s, prospectors came to Wisconsin in search of minerals. These lead miners were forced to “live like badgers” in tunnels burrowed into hillsides in order to make it through the state’s harsh winters.

The Early Mascots

When the university first adopted the badger as its official mascot, it used a live animal at football games. But according to the University Athletics Department, the original badger was “too vicious to control.”

More than once, the live badger escaped its handlers and had to be recaptured “with a flying tackle.” Eventually, the university decided it was in the best interest of fan and player safety to retire the mascot to Henry Vilas Zoo.

In 1948, the Badger Yearbook offered up a replacement for the badger: a small raccoon named Regdab (badger backwards) passed off as a “badger in a raccoon coat.” While the fluffy replacement was adorable, he couldn’t quite fill the badger shoes and was retired shortly after.

The Bucky You know

The badger that most Wisconsinites are familiar with today was initially conceptualized by a California-based illustrator in 1940. But the UW-Madison mascot didn’t fully come to life until 1949 when art student Connie Conrad designed a papier-mache badger head for one of the cheerleaders to wear during the homecoming game. Since that game, UW-Madison athletic events were forever changed.

That same year, the badger was officially named Buckingham U. Badger, or Bucky for short. (The U doesn’t stand for anything.)

In 1973, Assistant Attorney General Howard Koop attempted to dethrone Bucky as UW-Madison’s mascot and replace him with a cow named Henrietta Holstein.

Thankfully, Bucky survived the attempted coup and celebrated his 83rd birthday this year. Go Badgers!

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