Before they were Blue

September 30, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — This early 1890s photo features a group of Penn State students in formation on the lawn of the original Old Main, playing instruments and wearing military attire — a precursor to the famed Penn State Blue Band, one of the nation's finest college marching bands.

Penn State’s military history dates back almost to the founding of the University, with military instruction becoming part of the institution's mission when it was named Pennsylvania's land-grant university in 1863.

In that era, military training was required of all able-bodied males, and the University had a fife-and-drum-and-bugle corps whose purpose was primarily to set cadence to battalion marching drills and parades.

Not many know that in 1899, a chance encounter between cadet George Deike and his commandant during an inspection would eventually result in steel magnate and Penn State Trustee Andrew Carnegie making a donation to purchase instruments for a newly formed Cadet Drum and Bugle Corps in 1901.

The Cadet Band expanded to include more brass and within a few years was playing at football games, dances in the Armory, and similar campus and community functions. By 1913 it was re-named the College Band.

You can't tell in this black-and-white photo, but the students' uniforms are brown. In the 1920s they were replaced with blue uniforms, and the name "Blue Band" came into common usage.

  • Penn State Student Army Training Corps 1918

    The Student Army Training Corps Cadets at Penn State, c. 1918. In the background, left, can be seen the Armory (today the site of Willard Building) and behind it, the original Old Main. In the foreground at left, is the College Band, many years before it became today's Blue Band.

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    IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

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Last Updated July 13, 2018