School Colors / Cardinal and White / UW-Madison
From Wisconsin Week, "Who Knew?" February 24, 1999
Q. A 9-year-old "big Badger fan" asks: When did UW-Madison adopt cardinal and white as the school colors?
A. Smart kid. He knows not to call UW-Madison's colors "red and white," but "cardinal and white." He also poses a question with no easy answer.
Cardinal and white were "generally accepted in the 1880s as the school colors," says Arthur Hove, a historian of UW-Madison. The cardinal - or a shade of red - may have been around even longer since the Badgers briefly considered a tiger or a cardinal for team names. Although the badger became the team mascot, the color cardinal remained.
The Daily Cardinal, UW's first student newspaper, was established in 1892, which implies that at least the color cardinal was associated with the university by then. Cardinal is the main color, according to Hove; white is a color used for accent. In today's flashier sports world, coaches have dressed up some uniforms with a dash of black, also considered an accent color, he says.
But the exact date when the university adopted cardinal and white remains a mystery, even to the sages at "Ask Bucky" and Who Knew?
Jim Mott, retired sports information director for the athletic department, says the earliest reference he remembers (well, remembers hearing about) dates to 1894. That's "when we defeated Minnesota for the first time, 6-0, on the lower campus field." The next day's edition of The Daily Cardinal was printed completely in red ink. "From that point on, if not before, it was cardinal and white," Mott says.
Jack Holzhueter, of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, says college teams started adopting unique colors for each school around the turn of the century. "There was a national movement to assign colors to schools so that you could distinguish them on the playing field," he explains. Apparently, "the W's on the helmets were not sufficient."