Ohio State History and Traditions
The University's Beginnings
Ohio State's roots go back to 1870, when the Ohio General Assembly established the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College. The new college was made possible through the provisions of the Land-Grant Act, signed by President Lincoln on July 2, 1862. This legislation revolutionized the nation's approach to higher education, bringing a college degree within reach of all high school graduates.
The college's curriculum was a matter of bitter dispute among politicians, the public, and educators. One faction, the "narrow gauge" group, held that the college should devote itself solely to the teaching of agriculture and mechanical arts. The "broad gauge" faction wanted a wider program that featured English and ancient and foreign languages as well. Joseph Sullivant, a member of the first Board of Trustees, pushed the "broad gauge" idea through the Board of Trustees, where it passed by a margin of 8-7. His legacy endures; Ohio State continues to offer a broad-based, liberal arts education and a diverse range of study.
Classes began at the new college on September 17, 1873. Twenty-four students met at the old Neil farm just two miles north of Columbus. In 1878 the college's name was changed to The Ohio State University. In that same year the first class of six men graduated, and in 1879, the university graduated its first woman.
Origins of the Buckeye Name
The use of the term Buckeyes to refer to Ohio State University sports teams derives from the even wider use of the term to refer to all residents of the state of Ohio.
The university's Athletic Council officially adopted the term in 1950, but it had been in common use for many years before-certainly it was firmly established by 1920, and most records indicate that it had probably been used with some frequency to refer to Ohio State and its athletic teams since before the turn of the century.
As with many such terms that seem to have evolved rather than been decreed, the history of "buckeye" is a bit fuzzy. The buckeye (aesculus glabra) is a tree, native to Ohio and particularly prevalent in the Ohio River Valley, whose shiny dark brown nuts with lighter tan patches resemble the eye of a deer. Settlers who crossed the Alleghenies found it to be the only unfamiliar tree in the forest. Perhaps its uniqueness contributed to its popularity because it had few other attractions. Pioneers carved the soft buckeye wood into troughs, platters, and even cradles. Before the days of plastic, buckeye wood was often used to fashion artificial limbs. The nuts, although inedible, are attractive and folk wisdom had it that carrying one in a pocket brings good luck and wards off rheumatism. However, in general, the trees and their nuts are of little practical use: the wood does not burn well, the bark has an unpleasant odor, and the bitter nut meat is mildly toxic. Still, the tree has grit. It grows where others cannot, is difficult to kill, and adapts to its circumstances. Daniel Drake, who gave a witty speech on behalf of the buckeye at a well attended dinner in Cincinnati in 1833, said, "In all our woods there is not a tree so hard to kill as the buckeye. The deepest girdling does not deaden it, and even after it is cut down and worked up into the side of a cabin it will send out young branches, denoting to all the world that Buckeyes are not easily conquered, and could with difficulty be destroyed."
The first recorded use of the term to refer to a resident of the area is in 1788, some 15 years before Ohio became a state. Col. Ebenezer Sproat, a 6'4" man of large girth and swashbuckling mannerisms, led the legal delegation at the first court session of the Northwest Territory, held in Marietta. The Indians in attendance greeted him with shouts of "Hetuck, Hetuck" (the Indian word for buckeye), it is said because they were impressed by his stature and manner. He proudly carried the Buckeye nickname for the rest of his life, and it gradually spread to his companions and to other local white settlers. By the 1830s, writers were commonly referring to locals as "Buckeyes."
It was the presidential election of 1840, though, that put the term permanently in the vocabulary. William Henry Harrison, who had traded his Virginia-born aristocratic background for a more populist image as a war hero and frontiersman living on the banks of the Ohio River just west of Cincinnati, adopted the buckeye tree and buckeye nuts as campaign symbols. At the Whig convention, Harrison delegates carried buckeye canes, decorated with strings of buckeye beads. The buckeye nut was a precursor to today's campaign buttons. The buckeye became indelibly linked with Ohio.
The Ohio buckeye is one of 13 recognized members of the genus Aesculus, seven native to North America, one to Europe (the horse chestnut) and five to Asia. The Ohio buckeye's five-fingered leaflet, along with the nut, are sometimes used as symbols for The Ohio State University and are incorporated in its Alumni Association logo. Buckeye leaf decals are awarded to Ohio State football players for outstanding efforts on the field; players with many buckeye leaves on their helmets are indeed honored.
It is rare for an athletic team to be named after a tree; but the Buckeye name is so ingrained in the history and lore of the state and the university that few stop to consider how unusual it is. It is native, tenacious, attractive and unique -- traits that Ohioans and Ohio State alumni are proud to be associated with.
Ohio State Fight Songs
Across the Field
Fight the team across the field,
Show them Ohio's here
Set the earth reverberating with a mighty cheer
Rah! Rah! Rah!
Hit them hard and see how they fall;
Never let that team get the ball,
Hail! Hail! The gang's all here,
So let's win that old conference now.
Buckeye Battle Cry
In old Ohio there's a team
That's known thru-out the land;
Eleven warriors, brave and bold,
Whose fame will ever stand.
And when the ball goes over,
Our cheers will reach the sky,
Ohio field will hear again
The Buckeye Battle Cry-
Drive! Drive on down the field,
Men of the scarlet and gray;
Don't let them thru that line,
We have to win this game today,
Come on, Ohio!
Smash through to victory.
We cheer you as you go:
Our honor defend
So we'll fight to the end for O-hi-o.
Oh! Come let's sing Ohio's praise,
And songs to Alma Mater raise;
While our hearts rebounding thrill,
With joy which death alone can still.
Summer's heat or Winter's cold,
The seasons pass, the years will roll;
Time and change will surely show
How firm thy friendship O-hi-o.
These jolly days of priceless worth,
By far the gladest days of earth,
Soon will pass and we not know,
How dearly we love O-hi-o.
We should strive to keep the name,
Of fair repute and spotless fame,
So, in college halls we'll grow,
To love thee better, O-hi-o.
Tho' age may dim our mem'ry's store,
We'll think of happy days of yore,
True to friend and frank to foe,
As sturdy sons of O-hi-o.
If on seas of care we roll,
'Neath blackened sky, o'er barren shoal,
Tho'ts of thee bid darkness go,
Dear Alma Mater O-hi-o.
Sources: "Of Buckeyes and buckeyes" by John Fleischman, Audubon magazine, Sept. 1989
Various memos and articles from the files of the Office of University Communications