The Arts

UW Band at 125: Uniformly the Best

On Wisconsin takes a look back at what band members wore while bringing joy to Badger fans and audiences everywhere.

The first known photo of the University of Wisconsin Band depicts a pretty stern-looking bunch. That’s not surprising, considering that it was 1886, and up to that point, the group had been performing solely as a military band for drills with members of the university’s battalion. They looked ready to go into battle themselves.

The band didn’t start playing for football games until 1894, when its twenty-six members would ride around the city in an open streetcar, trying to persuade fans to come to the games.

Over the years, the band continued to grow in size. And its look evolved into the uniforms it wears today, with a logo that looks like a mashup of a pitchfork and a smiley face. As the band marks its 125th anniversary this year, On Wisconsin takes a look back at what band members wore while bringing joy to Badger fans and audiences everywhere.


Left above: The band’s earliest look mirrored the military. Right above: On its 50th birthday in 1935, the band received the Paul Bunyan drum from an Elks Lodge in Appleton, and it served as a trademark into the 1950s. Lower left: Later, the band adopted the plain, dark blue uniform of the Musicians Union with a high, stiff collar. Lower right: In 1953, the band traded in used ROTC uniforms (worn at left in the photo) for its first-ever brand-new ones (worn at right), purchased with surplus Rose Bowl funds. Photos: UW–Madison archives, UW Marching Band.

Above right: In 1972, the band purchased new uniforms that had a contemporary look with some military touches. Top: A new emphasis on showmanship, intense physical conditioning, and a demanding marching stride began under the leadership of Mike Leckrone, who arrived at the university in 1969 and became director of bands in 1975. Center: The band logo on the front of the uniform changed from black to white in 1984. The band has kept this look since then. Left: Celebrating a victory, band members turn their hats around when the Badgers have won, a Big Ten custom that dates back to early in the twentieth century.

Published in the Fall 2011 issue


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