Sports History - A 20 Part Series
Part 5 of 20: A History of Athletic Mascots at Oregon State University
"Jimmie" was a coyote (c. 1892-93)
OSU's first mascot was a coyote named "Jimmie." According to a listing of historical items in the OSU Archives, Jimmie was the college's mascot in 1893 and was owned by M.H. Kriebel, a local football enthusiast. At the time, OSU was known simply as "State Agricultural College" or S.A.C, and the school colors were probably navy blue and white. To date, sources outside the holdings of the University archives that document this mascot have not been found.
Use of "Beavers" as a team name (c. 1910)
This is disputed but records in the archives suggest OSU was first referred to as the "Beavers" in 1910. Some historians argue the date is later, around 1916. The name had been changed by this time to Oregon Agricultural College.
Oregon State Athletic Director James Arbuthnot owned a bulldog in the early 1900s seen pictured with some OAC athletic squads from the period. The dog was an "unofficial" mascot of some athletic teams, particularly wrestling (Arbuthnot was the coach) and football. The bulldog was never the school's official mascot, in the same sense as a J.R.N. Bell or a Benny the Beaver.
The "Human" Mascot ... John Richard Newton Bell (1893-1928)
Sometime after football was introduced at Oregon State, Corvallis' John Richard Newton Bell, a Presbyterian minister and longtime member of the OAC Board of Regents, became the team's most passionate supporter. As things evolved, J.R.N. Bell, as he was known, became the official Oregon State "mascot," and he is so pictured and written about in early school yearbooks. His chief claim to fame was his ritual of marching to the Marys River after each OSU Civil War victory to toss his top hat into the water as a token of celebration. Bell first threw his hat after Oregon State's initial victory over the U of O in 1894. The event grew into one of Corvallis' most anticipated social events and by the 1920s was an established ritual in the community. To honor his devotion to the university in general and to athletics in particular, Oregon State honored Bell in the 1920s by naming its football field, known up to that time informally as "The College Field," Bell Field, a name which stayed until 1951, when Bell Field was replaced by Parker Stadium (now Reser Stadium). Bell Field, located where the Dixon Student Recreational Center is located, was razed in 1953. The last game played there was a freshman Civil War game which the Beavers lost. A Corvallis Gazette-Times newspaper article from March 1922 quotes Bell as saying he became the official mascot of athletics at the college in 1893.
"Beavo" was a Beaver (1921)
References to "Beavo" first appear in a Barometer article in April 1921. Found by students canoeing the Mary's River, the six-month old beaver was brought to campus half-starved and nursed back to good health by caring students and an assistant professor of zoology named H.M. Wight. Questions remain as to how long or if Beavo was ever an official mascot of the school. It may have been an attempt to replace Bell with a live beaver, to mark the recent practice (around 1910) of calling athletic teams from the school "Beavers."
"Billy" Beaver (1935-1944)
The cover of the December 1935 Oregon State alumni magazine includes a photo of "Billy," a live beaver under the care of the school's Wildlife Club. Copy underneath the photo clearly identifies Billy as the school's new "beaver mascot." His cartoon likeness appears throughout the 1930s and early 1940s in newspapers and other publications, particularly the Barometer, and his face has the slight appearance of the kinder, gentler "Benny" replaced in the 1990s by what was known at that time as the "angry" Beaver.
"The Gnawed Log" (1943)
No, a 'Gnawed Log' has never been an Oregon State mascot, but the name was used to title a sports column in OSU's student newspaper, The Barometer, in 1943, and is a very early reference to the name 'Benny Beaver.'; The column was written by Dick Jenning, sports columnist for the paper.
'Benny Beaver'...earliest reference (1941-42)
According to Candance Hayes, OSU's Trademark and Licensing Coordinator, the earliest reference to the name 'Benny Beaver' can be found in the 1942 Beaver yearbook on page 14, where there is pictured a group of students with a beaver statue mounted on a trailer named 'Benny Beaver.' The photo was taken in connection with campus activities surrounding Homecoming for 1941. The 1941 Beaver yearbook, which covered student life for the year 1940, also has this same statue pictured but refers to that beaver likeness as 'Bill.'; So between 1940-41, according to Ms. Hayes, "someone came up with the name 'Benny'. " (The someone in this case may have been members of OSC's Rally Squad). Hayes says it's also interesting to note that the lovable Benny Beaver cartoon icon, the grinning beaver head with the OSU beanie used until replaced by an 'Athletic Beaver' icon in 2001, was drawn by Arthur Evans, a graphic artist for Angeles Pacific, probably around 1951. Hayes says: "Evans drew many college cartoon character mascots for car window decals. Several years ago, I was trying to track down the origin of OSU's cartoon Benny in order to register it as an OSU trademark and discovered in the process that OSU was not the only school with that same beaver cartoon mascot. Cal Tech also had the very same beaver but with different letters on the beanie. Still, it was our Benny. When I called Angeles Pacific, I was told Mr. Evans had passed away but that he had used the same cartoon for each school who had the same mascot. So, every school with a beaver mascot got what Oregon Staters fondly knew for decades as Benny Beaver. However, I haven't found any other schools except OSU and Cal Tech who adopted Mr. Evans' beaver drawing as their mascot. Angeles Pacific is still producing OSU merchandise as a current licensee."
Ken Austin as "Benny Beaver" (1952)
Ken Austin was the first student to appear at OSU athletic events dressed as "Benny Beaver." This was during the football season of 1952. His outfit looked primitive by today's standards. Ken is retired today and with wife Joan is co-owner of A-dec, one of the world's largest manufacturers of dental equipment based in Newberg, Ore. Ken has been recognized as one of OSU's outstanding alumni of the 20th century. He graduated in engineering in 1953.
"Benny and Bernice" (c. early 1980s to mid 1990s)
During this 15 or so year period, Benny was joined at most athletic events by "Bernice," a female beaver mascot, giving OSU the distinction of possibly having the only "uni-sex" mascots in NCAA history. During her reign, Bernice had a habit of wearing a wedding dress every Homecoming. Benny, course, would always be in a tux.
"Angry" Beaver or "Angry Benny" Beaver (1999)
Introduced in 1999, a new "angry Beaver" logo replaced the kinder, gentler "Benny" logo during the last week of January 2001. "Benny Beaver" remains OSU's official athletic mascot, even though it has become customary for the new beaver likeness to be referred to by the campus community as the "angry Beaver." For most alumni and friends of OSU, any likeness of a beaver representing OSU will still be known as "Benny," as will the life-sized beaver that always seems to show up at all kinds of Oregon State athletic events. The word "angry" represents an attempt on the part of Beaver fans today to explain the difference in appearance between the new and old Beaver logos and is not an attempt to change the name of the school mascot.
-- Larry Landis and George P. Edmonston, Jr.
, History and Traditions Editor