Gimme an S!: A History of the Block Letter S

The Block "S" logo made its debut at Syracuse University in 1893 and began a tradition that would produce one of the most recognizable logos in college sports today.

Block S The Block "S" was officially established as the insignia of highest attainment for an athlete representing Syracuse University at a meeting of the Athletic Governing Board in 1893. George H. Bond '94, a notable football and baseball player, immediately bought a sweater and had an orange colored Block "S" sewn to it.This was the first official Block "S" ever worn and it was premiered by Bond in a baseball game in the spring of that year. By September 1, 1893 The Syracusan newspaper reports, "Those who make the first team [football] will wear orange and blue striped jerseys and stockings, and the Varsity emblem, the block orange S."

Over time, awarding the Block "S" to athletes became an honored tradition that demanded a ceremony. Prior to this only the football players were honored with a banquet and the Block "S" awards were given out by the Athletic Governing Board during its regular meetings. When it began in the 1910s, the Block "S" Dinner added formality and pomp to the conferring of letters on SU's athletes, some of whom were granted multiple letters for participation in more than one sport. The Dinner also included the presentation of special awards and honors, like the Orange Key Award to the outstanding athlete in the junior class or the Laurie Cox trophy to the most valuable Lacrosse player. The Block S Dinner was a University tradition until it was replaced by the All Sports Award Banquet in 1976.

While the Block "S" remained an integral part of the identity of athletics at SU throughout the 20th century, it experienced periods of prevalence and decline and underwent many changes. Different iterations of the design were created in various fonts that sometimes looked nothing at all like the original "S". Many sports teams chose to spell out "Syracuse" on their uniforms and discarded the Block "S" entirely. Often, there were multiple emblems in use by various teams. Certain versions of the "S" are easily identifiable by decade or time period, like the more rounded "S" from the 1970s-1980s or the more angular one from the 1990s, but none held as much nostalgia as the simple, though never ordinary, Block "S".

In 2005, newly hired Athletic Director Daryl Gross announced that the Block "S" would become the University's official athletics logo, replacing the interlocking "SU" designed by Nike and unveiled in 2004. While the interlocking "SU" succeeded in uniting the Athletics Program under one emblem, Gross said the Nike design was based on the tendency of the campus community to refer to the University as SU. While this nickname was popular on campus it did not translate as well outside the Syracuse bubble. The Block "S" was identifiable to fans and spectators across the country. Gross said, "The Block "S" allows us to respect the past and represent the future. The "S" represents not only the University and its athletics program, but the entire Syracuse community."

This exhibition was curated by Cara A. Howe