Through the Years: The Nittany Lion

UNIVERSITY PARK – The year was 1904 and Penn State University was versing Princeton in a heated baseball game, one that Harrison D. Mason travelled to Princeton to attend.

The Penn State fans were shown the statue of Princeton’s Bengal tiger, so that they could see just how strong and proud their opponents were, just how tough they would be on the field.

Mason was one of those people who could think on the spot. Without any hesitation, the Penn State senior fabricated a story of Penn State’s unbeatable Nittany Lion.

Result? Penn State beat Princeton that day and the following years saw the term Nittany Lion catch on among Penn Staters until he emerged to be the very symbol that Happy Valley takes pride in today.

The Nittany Lion was in fact a real mountain creature who ruled over central Pennsylvania until the late 1880s.

Early 1920s

This is the first photograph of the original Nittany Lion mascot and it was taken in 1922. Back then, the mane of the lion was the main focal point and his eyes reflect the blue and white power through the black and white frame. If only he knew what the future would hold. 

Late 1920s

This photo is of Leon Skinner, who was the last person to take on the Nittany Lion mascot suit before the forties. For twelve years this was the last glimpse of the lion, but maybe this pose and this costume was strong enough to last through those barren years. 


The forties finally came and many men would take on the role of the Nittany Lion including Robert Ritzman who had the title to himself for four years — 1942 to 1946 — during the decade. Perhaps this costume was the closest in resembling the costume the Nittany Lion embodies today. 


This Nittany Lion found some company in two cheerleaders, by the 1950s. 


By the 1960s, the mascot seems to have been given a closet from which he chose a black umbrella and PSU cap to sport. What a stud he stands, in front of the stands of fans, right on Beaver Field.  


Sculptor Heinz Warneke was the very man who built the Nittany Lion Shrine that was dedicated to Homecoming in 1942. Warneke’s handwork involved making the shrine out of 13 block Indiana Limestone and here he is now, waving with the living lion that was the very symbol he sculpted many years back. The two do make quite the pair. 


Here he is, the lion of the hour. This photo is of the mascot doing the one-armed pushups for the game at Beaver Stadium, a tradition that still goes on today. 


In 1994, the women’s basketball team celebrated their big win at the Big 10 Championship. Posing in Rec Hall-center court, the Nittany Lion supports the Lady Lions in their prowl to victory.


Today, our Nittany Lion proudly can sit on the Nittany Lion Shrine, knowing full well his history and legacy is far from over. With every passing season, the Nittany Lion flashes his fourt-tooth smile, delivers that Nittany roar and contributes to the pride and soul that has and always will permeate through Happy Valley — for many, many years to come. 

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