Washburn’s mystery blue eternally eludes historians

Bryce Grammer

Blue and WU. These two have been synonymous for longer than anyone cares to remember, but the circumstances surrounding Washburn’s affinity for this particular shade of blue is unclear, not to mention confusing.

Some members of the Washburn community call the official color “Washburn Blue,” dark blue, even dull blue. It seems that everyone has their own way of describing it, but after checking the Washburn University Web site, the name of the university’s official color is actually Yale Blue.

No wonder some students and faculty members are getting concerned about the lack of identity, tradition and school pride among their fellow Ichabods. How ironic, one of the most interesting and original mascots in the NCAA is paired with a color named after a different university more than 1,100 miles away.

We’ve all heard the story of how WU got its name, its mascot and a large sum of money from the Massachusetts wire manufacturer Ichabod Washburn. But unlike that well-known story, the saga of Yale Blue is a bit of a mystery.

One of the earliest references to Washburn using blue to represent the University can be found in the Washburn Argo, which is one of the many predecessors to the newspaper you are currently reading. The issue published in March 1887, includes an article titled “The College Colors.”

The article is about the now unpracticed yearly tradition where each class of students picks a color and pairs it with the “college color” to form their class colors. The article states, “The college color is a blue of such a shade as to defy any other under the sun from blending with it.”  You’re probably thinking “case closed.” Washburn must have snagged Yale’s color by March 1887, but it’s not that simple. Partly because the article doesn’t say when that spectrum-defying blue was chosen, but mostly because in 1887 Yale’s official color was green. It wasn’t until 1894, roughly seven years after “The College Colors” appeared in the Argo that the east coast school switched its official color to Yale Blue.

We do know that the color was officially adopted by the university sometime in the early 20th century. In 1990 the president’s office at Washburn received an envelope from a longtime faculty member who had discovered it when first coming to Washburn in 1939. The envelope contained a few swatches of fabric colored the same familiar shade of blue that is inseparable with our university today.

Along with the fabric the envelope contained a note that read, “Official Washburn Blue by vote of the faculty on report of a committee to investigate and find out what is Yale Blue.” Obviously the Washburn faculty members were very interested in Yale’s color, but it is still unknown why an exploratory committee was deemed necessary. 

So it would seem the only certainty is that Washburn’s official color is blue. Call it “Washburn Blue,” dark blue, dull blue or even PMS 654 as it’s known in ink-speak, but in the end its origins will probably always be a bit of a mystery.