In 1858 the Harvard crew "were in the habit of rowing in their ordinary
underclothing, wearing miscellaneous hats or caps," wrote Charles W.
Eliot '53. Preparing for a big regatta in June, wanting onlookers to be
able to distinguish the Harvard boat, crew members Eliot and Benjamin W.
Crowninshield '58 went to a Boston store and bought six Chinese silk bandannas
for teammates to tie around their heads. "A color for each college
had not then been thought of," Eliot later explained. He and Crowninshield
considered blue, orange, green, and yellow bandannas, but preferred the
In 1910, the record indicates, the Corporation approximated the color of
those bandannas in a contemporary silk bandanna, and voted that Harvard's
official color would be that of the approximation.
In 1950 Harvard asked Professor A.C. Hardy of MIT to subject the Corporation's
bandanna to spectrophotometric analysis. He reported the wavelengths of
light reflected from the bandanna and declared Harvard crimson "a
slightly purplish color rather than a pure red color." By defining
the color scientifically, the University hoped to promote uniformity
in the hue of things implicitly alleging to employ it, such as pennants,
neckties, doctoral gowns, track singlets, and the covers of official publications.
The bandanna was resurrected recently from the Harvard Archives and photographed
for this, its first appearance in print in color (left, in photo). No
printed reproduction of the bandanna could
be precisely faithful to its color. But anyone can see that Harvard's attempt
to promote conformity in crimson has been a conspicuous failure.