The History Of the Pittsburg State Gorilla

The Pittsburg State University mascot, Gus the Gorilla, is one of the most unique mascots in American higher education.

In 1920, a group of young men dissatisfied with the state of school spirit organized themselves in order to accelerate college spirit and enthusiasm until it shall permeate the State.  Twenty-four students, under the leadership of Harold “Babe” Alyea, joined the fledgling organization as the Gorillas; a 1920’s slang term for roughnecks.  According to one of the editorials the group sent to the school newspaper, “The only thing wrong with this school is that the student body is made up of a bunch of would be school teachers who are trying to get their dignity established before they get out.  We want PEP and we want it all the time.

Thereafter the Gorillas sponsored pep rallies, picnics, freshman hazing, mock wedding and burials, special trains to out of town athletic events, shoe “sails”, and “night shirt stampedes” through downtown Pittsburg.  The group membership quickly grew to over a hundred.

In 1923, the Gorillas enlisted the aid of art student Helen Waskey to make a drawing of the Gorilla.  Two years later, the group offered their symbol to the school, as it’s official mascot.  On January 15, 1925 the student body unanimously adopted the “ferocious beast … as a name and synonym for the athletic teams.”

During his first half-century, the Gorilla became less ferocious and more lovable in appearance, being dubbed “Gus.”  Gus eventually even found a mate, “Gussie”, created by Charles Galvin in 1952 for a student union display.  Gus first became a cartoon figure in 1952, drawn by Lee Green, Kanza art editor.  Gus became a permanent fixture on campus when the Class of ’65 had him cast in fiberglass by Larry Wooster and set in front of the Student Union.

During the summer of 1980 artist and PSU alumnus Ted Watts set out to recreate the original ferocity of the mascot.  “I recall how disappointed I was the first time I saw Gus the Gorilla,” says Watts. “I was expecting King Kong, which he wasn’t.” 

In the mid-eighties the University wanted a reproducible logo centered on their mascot.  Wayne Davenport, then Director of Public Relations for the university, assigned the design project to Michael Hailey in 1986.

Mr. Hailey was then also on staff in the Public Relations Department.  He spent time researching the Gorilla in general, and those images used by the university over the years.  He wanted to use geometric shapes to form the Gorilla. This would make it both unique and reproducible. In doing so he also wanted to create an image, which appeared, both intelligent and fierce.

Utilizing tempera paints, Hailey created the design, which is still used today.  If one takes a moment to examine the “split face”, they will realize the power of the eyes in the image.  His objective of creating an image, which looks, both intelligent and fierce is still realized today.  Being the only college or university with the Gorilla as the mascot, Mike Hailey’s image is now universally recognized with Pittsburg State University.