A bird is born

This Jay, Jay, Jay, Jay Jayhawk came home to Lawrence on the Kaw after first traveling to Lincoln on a car

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Bird is Born Jayhawk logo
From the treasures of University Archives, these early-1920s decals are among the last original remnants from O’Bryon and Hollingbery’s enterprising marketing campaigns, which resulted in a new KU mascot.

A most profitable tale of hilltop high jinks is that of the introduction of the University’s third Jayhawk, hatched from the drawing board in 1922. Born of necessity, the bird was designed to adorn cars traveling to Lincoln for the Kansas-Nebraska football game. “Show ’em you’re a Jayhawker if you have to paint it on the windshield,” a cheerleader reportedly urged a pep-rally crowd.

That was the only encouragement then-sophomores James O’Bryon, ’24, and George Hollingbery, ’24, needed. Beaming with “the air of one who has seen a great light,” Hollingbery assured his friend their troubles were over: “We will paint Jayhawks on windshields,” O’Bryon later recalled Hollingbery saying, “and abandon the idea of holding up a filling station to get there ourselves.”

O’Bryon, the artist, and Hollingbery, the advertising entrepreneur, went to work. O’Bryon drew a Jayhawk he deemed superior to the several Jayhawks that had already come and gone. The two were pleased with their bird and sought a copyright as they produced decals “for all Nebraska-bound flivvers.”

But how could they market this nouveau Jay and fund their own trip to the Cornhusker state? Hollingbery’s daughters, Betsy Hollingbery Edwards, ’51, and Deborah Hollingbery Niethammer, c’58, say the family legend was that their father and O’Bryon sneaked into the Alumni Association office and stealthily acquired a mailing list. The next step was simple. They mailed a decal and a heartfelt letter of solicitation to every name on the list.

The response was overwhelming. When their earnings were tallied, the two had netted about $20,000, no small potatoes by 1920s standards. Another $2,000 rolled in after the two won a successful settlement against a Topeka hotel that had made use of the image without their permission.

The University and the Alumni Association never pressed charges for the pilfering of the mailing list; in fact, the design was so popular that it prevailed as the new Jayhawk—at least until 1929, when Forrest O. Calvin sketched the next great bird.

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