Handsome Dan: Yale's Famous Mascot

This champion show dog was the first Handsome Dan of Yale's long line of Olde English Bulldog mascots.

Many believe Handsome Dan was the first bulldog to represent Yale in 1889 but according to Yale Alumni Magazine (Nov/Dec 2014) recent research shows Handsome Dan had a predecessor, an English bulldog named Harper. An article published in Yale Daily News (November 22, 1890) states "Harper the Champion English bulldog will be taken to Springfield today as a mascot to the Yale team." The first record of Handsome Dan as a mascot is mentioned in Forest and Stream (June 23, 1892) saying Dan would be "the Yale mascot this year in the place of the champion Harper."

Handsome Dan may not have been Yale's first mascot, but his popularity earned him a place of honor in Yale athletics history. Andrew Graves, a prominent athlete who attended Yale, was the owner of the first Handsome Dan. Some sources say he bought the bulldog from a blacksmith for $5 but Yale Alumni Magazine says that is probably not true because, according to The American Kennel Club Stud Book, Handsome Dan's parents were pedigreed dogs bred by a William North of New Haven. Not only was Handsome Dan Yale's beloved mascot, he was a champion show dog who won at least 30 first prize ribbons over his lifetime.

Handsome Dan followed Graves everywhere around campus, including sporting events, and a strong bond was quickly developed between the bulldog and students. In fact, it was said Dan would never associate with anyone but students. Handsome Dan was adopted by the students as the Yale mascot, and the tradition of a bulldog being led across the field before football and baseball games began. One newspaper reported "He was a big white bulldog, with one of the greatest faces a dog of that breed ever carried."

Handsome Dan's fame was described in The Philadelphia Press: "A favorite trick was to tell him to 'Speak to Harvard.' He would bark ferociously and work himself into physical contortions of rage never before dreamed of by a dog."

After Graves graduated, Dan stayed on campus with his master's brother. In 1896 Graves brought Dan to live with him in England, where Handsome Dan died a year later at the age of 10. His body was stuffed and is in a sealed glass case in one of the trophy rooms of Yale's Payne Whitney Gymnasium, where "he is the perpetual guardian of the treasures which attest to generations of Yale athletic glory." (Stanton Ford)

After the death of Handsome Dan, the editor of the Hartford Courant wrote an editorial that testifies to the dog's unforgettable personality: "In personal appearance he seemed like a cross between an alligator and a horned frog, and he was called handsome by the metaphysicians under the law of compensation. The title came to him; he never sought it. He was always taken to games in a leash, and the Harvard football team for years owed its continued existence to the fact that the rope held.… If he has gone to that heaven which some humane people think exists for animals, we venture the prediction that there is music just now in the bulldog corner."

There was no successor to Handsome Dan I until 1933. On November 15, 2016 The Yale University Athletics Department announced the arrival of its new mascot, Handsome Dan XVIII.