Weird mascots and memorable logos play a huge part in our everyday lives. From a business point of view, logos, mascots, and mottos create a unique identity for a service or product that consumers can easily recognize.
From a consumer’s point of view (or a fan’s point of view in the case of sports), logos and mascots become more than static symbols. They become extensions of a product, like the Starbucks logo for coffee, or an identity, like the Cheesehead hat for Green Bay Packers fans.
When it comes to sports, in particular, the mascot becomes a larger-than-life character, often showing up at games to enliven the crowd. Though a mascot or logo doesn’t add to a team’s preparedness on the field, it can help invigorate their fighting spirit.
For example, touching a Saint Louis Billiken before a game is a superstition for some basketball players—and it’s not as odd as it sounds. Whether gaming with a slot like 9 masks of fire or sitting down to take an exam, many people have a certain ritual that puts them in a clear state of mind.
In the world of gaming, some players sit in a certain cardinal direction. In the world of exams, some students will only use a certain pen or pencil. But when it comes down to the Blue Billiken gracing Saint Louis University apparel and buildings, what’s luck got to do with one of the world’s strangest mascots?
Born in a Dream
Those looking into the origins of the small, gnome-like creature gracing the SLU campus in downtown Saint Louis need to look no further than a local named Florence Pretz. Back in 1908, the art teacher dreamed of a strange, roundish figure.
Part troll, part gnome—Pretz wasn’t sure what she’d dreamed. After drawing out the figure and preparing to patent the design, she named the creature a "Billiken" based on a poem from Canadian artist Bliss Carman. By 1909, there was a song titled Billiken Ring. Meanwhile, the Billiken Company of Chicago bought the patent from Pretz to produce dolls, statues, and hatpins of the tiny figure.
Two years later, SLU jumped on board with the craze and named the Billiken as their official mascot. Over a century later, the iconic mascot is one of the most easily recognized in the US. Historically, the Billiken also served as the mascot for several minor league teams like the Montgomery Billikens (Class A baseball) and the Fort Wayne Billikens (of the former Central League in baseball).
The Billiken Abroad
The Billiken’s story didn’t stop in Saint Louis following the craze of the early 1900s. The tiny gnome performed well in Alaska, where many locals sold carvings of the figure in cities like Anchorage and Nome. The popularity of the figurines continued on until the 1960s, though Billikens can still be found in Anchorage.
However, no place adored the Billiken quite like Japan. There, the figurine closely resembled one of the country’s Seven Lucky Gods, whose feet are rubbed to incur good fortune. The Billiken’s image became more than a charm doll and can still be found dotting the Shinsekai area of Osaka. There, the mascot is known as "The God of Things As They Ought to Be."
The Billiken is a popular souvenir in the form of plush dolls, statues, and sweets. Some figures, such as the shrine in Tsūtenkaku Tower, attract massive crowds that can result in hours-long waits just to touch the Billiken. Beyond Osaka, shrines and dedications to the Billiken remain in Kobe shrines, as well as pre-war churches where the Billiken features as part of the stained glass window art.
See the Saint Louis Billiken logo history.
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