Sincerely Yours: The Origins of the Old Oaken Bucket

This month’s Sincerely Yours post is brought to you by the Archives Photographs Curator, Brad Cook! 

One of the most popular Indiana University-Purdue University traditions began with this:

On October 23, 1925 IU Athletic Director Zora Clevenger replied to Frederick E. Bryan (IU Law, 1905),“Have scouts trying to land oaken bucket immediately.”

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In 1936, J. Frank Lindsay (IU 1913) recounted the origins behind the trophy in a letter to then IU President William Lowe Bryan. He noted that Wiley J. Huddle (IU 1901) had the idea that a group should undertake a “worthy joint enterprises on behalf of the two schools.” Thus, a joint committee of IU and Purdue alumni first met on August 31, 1925 and Dr. Clarence K. Jones (IU Medicine, 1914) “proposed the creation of a traditional football trophy…at a later meeting this committee recommended an old oaken bucket as the most typically Hoosier form of a trophy…”

It is said the bucket was found on the Bruner farm between the towns of Kent and Hanover, Indiana and that Confederate General John Morgan (of Morgan’s Raiders fame) drank from the bucket during his incursion into Indiana during the summer of 1863. Another story traces the origins of the bucket to Illinois, where it was first repaired at the American Steel Foundries of Granite City, Illinois and given an “antiquated” look by H. Raymond McCoy of the same company.

Presentation of Old Oaken Bucket, November 21, 1925. Archives Image no. p0023404
Presentation of Old Oaken Bucket, November 21, 1925. Archives Image no. p0023404

The bucket was unveiled at halftime on November 21, 1925 with writer and columnist George Ade (Purdue 1887) and Monon Railroad president Harrie Kurrie (IU Law, 1895) presenting. The symbol of supremacy for the friendly rivalry was cemented in place.“I” or “P” links made of brass were to be added to the bucket each year depending on which team won the tilt. The problem that first year was that the game ended in a 0-0 tie. Thus, Zora Clevenger announced that the bucket would be kept at IU until Purdue won a game. Soon after, a combined “IP” link was created to symbolize a tie. It is this very link that hangs from the handle of the bucket today and from which the remainder of the links are attached. Each is engraved with the date and score of the game.

Over the years the trophy has been: kidnapped on several occasions, escorted by the IU ROTC in 1945 from the IU p0054258Archives to the Auditorium for a football convocation, displayed on the third floor of L.S. Ayres in Indianapolis in 1950, and filled with beer after IU students “liberated” it from a Purdue trophy case in 1953. After speaking on the phone to former IU football coach Lee Corso, I was able to confirm that he and his wife did indeed take the bucket to bed when he first won the trophy in 1976. He was also able to confirm that he and his family placed flowers in the bucket and used it as a centerpiece on their Thanksgiving day table whenever it was in IU’s possession.

In a state built for basketball, there is no more prized possession between IU and Purdue than this football trophy and its ever-lengthening chain. Even during those seasons where one’s team has done poorly it is always felt the season can be salvaged if “we can just win the Old Oaken Bucket.”

As of the end of 2015, Purdue leads the overall series between the teams 72-40-6. Purdue also leads the trophy game series 58-30-3 – LET’S ADD ONE MORE WIN FOR IU HERE IN 2016!

Author- iubarchives

The IU Bloomington Archives is the largest and most comprehensive source of information on the history and culture of Indiana University. Questions? Like to see something specific on the blog? Contact us! archives@indiana.edu For more great IU history, follow us on Twitter! @iubarchives

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