Campus History

Farewell to the Head

bucky head

UW-Madison Archives, S040502

Early this summer, Badger Nation lost its head — or at least the man who gave us our head: Bill Sachse ’50 was the brain behind Bucky Badger.

Bucky’s been around so long that it’s tempting to think that he’s always been part of the university, but that’s not true. UW teams may have been known as the Badgers for as long as the university has taken part in intercollegiate sports, but Bucky’s history is far more modern.

The illustration that we today call Bucky — wearing a striped sweater and a frown, his fists clenched — was designed by California commercial artist Art Evans in 1940. It was nameless. Meanwhile, the football team had a mascot — a live badger from Eau Claire that appeared, evidently unwillingly, at games. “He was so anti-social,” said Sachse in a 1999 interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. “Once you dragged him [into the stadium], he’d immediately start burying [himself in] the turf on the field.”

It was Sachse who brought the two images together — the sweater-clad humanoid figure and a live performer. Inspired by African masks he saw at Memorial Union, he suggested creating a papier-mâché head that a male cheerleader could wear. Artist Connie Conrad made the head; Bill Sagal ’51 debuted it at a football game in 1949. All three appear (left to right, Sachse, Sagal, and Conrad) in the photo above.

Sachse’s contributions didn’t end there. He also helped run the contest in which the student body voted on a name for the new mascot. When the ideas students suggested — Bernie, Buddy, Bouncy — underwhelmed, Sachse rigged the election so that Buckingham U. Badger won out.

Sachse passed away in May, in Kohler, Wisconsin. But he left behind a powerful legacy.

Published in the Fall 2012 issue


  • Diane Goede Lutz June 24, 2023

    When I was a freshman at UW in 1971, I became friends with a young woman in that not-so-popular class that included a posture picture. Deb one day informed me that her dad Bill was the first Bucky Badger. How cool is that! That’s one impressive claim to fame.

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