The history of maize and blue

In this 1907 postcard, a Michigan fan is clothed in the pale shade that would soon provoke cries in favor of a darker, bolder Michigan blue. (Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library)

In the late 1860s, a committee of U-M students charged with choosing the university’s colors recommended that “azure blue and maize” be adopted as the institution’s symbolic colors. Despite the official adoption, U-M community members of the late 1800s used whatever shade they wanted, and over the years, U-M azure faded to a washed-out baby blue in official university documents and decorations. Starting in 1879, athletic uniforms at the university showed blues of bolder and bolder hue over time. In the early 1900s, in honor of U-M’s anniversary, the regents appointed a faculty committee to “determine the exact shades of maize and blue which should be suitable for the official colors of the University and embody them in some lasting form.” Decades later, in 2013, U-M’s branding chief, Steve Busch, found no fewer than 12 shades of Michigan blue in use. He went in search of just one “intelligent, inventive, and noble shade of blue.” He got thinking about the dark blue panels he used to see when he was a kid selling frozen treats on the concourse of Michigan Stadium, and he found out the Athletic Department had brought it back, using a hue in the Pantone Color Matching System called Pantone 282 c. It’s a combination of 100 parts cyan, 60 parts magenta and 60 parts black.

Adapted from “Rhapsodies in Blue” by James Tobin. To read more, go to


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