Skip to main content
Penn History

History of Penn Colors

When were the Red and Blue first used as Penn's colors?

Francis James Dallett, then the University Archivist, answered this question in the Daily Pennsylvanian of 23 November 1983:

“The earliest known representation of the combined Penn colors, red and blue, is as reported: on the incised letters of the lid of the 1871 College Hall cornerstone. I am unable to trace the use of either color as having any prior use on any document or artifact which would indicate any special significance to the institution; of course, the two colors do reflect the colors of the national flag. The whole business of assigned institutional colors is a 19th century phenomenon, perhaps with roots in the Romantic Age in the commercial vein of the ‘assigned’ tartans of the Scottish clans who had no defined plaids earlier. Eighteenth century American academic institutions simply did not have colors.”

The Red and Blue, by the Students of the University of Pennsylvania, March 15, 1889
The Red and Blue, by the Students of the University of Pennsylvania, March 15, 1889

Exactly which shades of red and blue are those of the University?

The University has used different shades of red and blue at different times over the past century. Hopefully the University has been faithful to a resolution adopted by the Trustees on 17 May 1910:

“The colors shall be red and blue,…The colors shall conform to the present standards used by the United States Government in its flags.”

In the nineteenth century there were no official standards for the colors of the United States flag. The federal government and private manufacturers did not follow the same color guidelines, and private manufacturers in particular tended to use whatever shades of red and blue cloth that were available.

Later the garment industry developed the first precise color standards and presented them as the Standard Color Card of America. When the first government standards were established for the flag in the 1930s, the specified shade of blue, “national flag blue,” was the same blue-black in common use for police uniforms. In the 1960’s the shades of the flag colors were officially designated as “Old Glory” red and “Old Glory” blue. These colors are not designated by law, but are listed in the GSA technical specifications for manufacturers.

Today the Standard Color Card of America standards have been superseded by the Pantone Matching System (PMS). According to the PMS system, the PMS number for national flag blue is 282, while the current flag colors are PMS color blue 281 and PMS color red 193.

A darker “burgundy” red and a dark blue were adopted many years ago as competition colors by Penn Athletics and these colors have long been preferred by Development and Alumni Relations. About 1986, PMS red 201 and PMS blue 288 were established as the specification for all official University printed material; these are the standards Facilities Services uses when selecting paint colors.