From Cubs to Grizzlies, to Bruins: How UCLA got its mascot

Photo courtesy of KU Brand Center

In 1919, before UCLA was ever a thing, the school was known as the Southern Branch of the University of California. At that time, the school only had an unofficial mascot, a dog named Rags, who lived on campus. And while Rags was a perfect pup, the students still wanted something more official as a mascot. With SBUC technically being a child of Berkeley, it made sense for the school to become the "Cubs" as if they were the offspring of the "Golden Bear."

The cub mascot had an excellent initial run as the mascot, with students toting around a teddy bear around campus with a blue and gold bow to represent the school. It was fun to be in a new school with a young cub representing the school so well. Things got exciting (and maybe did some foreshadowing) in 1922 when the Cubs won their conference's basketball tournament. After the tournament, a live bear was brought to campus to celebrate. That ended quickly, obviously, as the bear bit one of the players during the celebration.

So in 1924, SBUC turned into UCLA, and the school became its own institution; the students felt it was time for a mascot a little more intimidating than a cub. The students voted and changed the mascot to a Grizzly, but again, there was an issue with the mascot. When UCLA entered the Pacific Coast Conference (not quite the Pac-12 yet), the University of Montana was not happy that UCLA was also using the "Grizzly" as a mascot. So, UCLA went back to the drawing board. After considering everything from Buccaneers to Gorillas, they heard from the student leaders at UC Berkeley, who had decided to give up their "Bruin" mascot and only go by "Bears." So they gave up the name Bruins to UCLA.

Whew. UCLA was officially the Bruins.

Now that UCLA was forever the Bruins, things started to get interesting. In the 1930's UCLA would actually bring a live bear to UCLA's home football games at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The school would rent bears from Hollywood studios to entertain the crowd, and that they did. But it quickly became clear bears would be hard to handle, so by the early 1940s, the live bears were banned by the Coliseum.

But again! UCLA needed a mascot to represent the Bruin. So in 1950, students and alums got Little Joe Bruin, a Himalayan bear cub from India. They would keep him in secret locations; however, the cub grew too large and was sent to a circus. There were several iterations, with UCLA students trying to hide a live bear in and around campus. There was a "Josephine" who was purchased in 1961 and kept in the backyard of an alums house, but she was ultimately taken to the San Diego Zoo. It turns out live bear mascots weren't working.

Then in 1963, we FINALLY got the costumed Joe Bruin, and by 1967 the first-ever costumed Josephine Bruin was created. The costumes have had at least six looks over time, from a costume reminiscent of the Country Bears at Disneyland to a highly muscular Joe.

And finally, the mascots we know and love today.

It wasn't an easy ride for the Bruins and their mascot history, but the trouble was worth it, as now we have two of the most recognizable mascots in sports.



  • Joe deBruin

    Great write up! The one and only decent Bruin mascot after the live ones, is “Smiling Joe Bruin”. Glad to recognize that with your awesome retro designs. Too bad UCLA isn’t as smart, they should look up “iconic” and learn the definition.

  • Bob Turney

    “After the tournament, a live bear was brought to campus to celebrate. That ended quickly, obviously, as the bear bit one of the players during the celebration.”

    This feels entirely predictable, and it’s amazing how people didn’t presume that, well, bear gonna bear. Also, I guess we’re made of tougher stuff in the South with cougars and tigers and such.

  • Henry Ortiz

    Great history lesson here. Quick, to the point, and with pictures and graphics! Thanks for the history lesson Homefield!

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