Skip to main content

Our History & Traditions

The University of Houston's proud heritage of academic excellence dates back to its founding in 1927, when its primary focus was training future teachers. At that time, it was called Houston Junior College and classes were held on the San Jacinto High School campus.

Over the years, we grew and prospered, becoming the University of Houston in 1934. Two years later, the institution acquired land for a permanent campus, and its first building opened in 1939. In 1947, the institution launched one of its many rich traditions by adopting the cougar, later named Shasta, as its official mascot. The university became a state institution in 1963 and joined the newly created University of Houston System in 1977.

University of Houston, War and Growth, 1939-1950

This University-produced 30-minute documentary tells the compelling story of the University and the city of Houston during World War II.

Our Traditions

From a lovable feline to an all-campus fiesta, the University of Houston builds community and generates fun with a variety of time-honored traditions. Most individual colleges have their own traditions, too, ranging from Wolffest, a college of business tradition where students run pop-up food stands in a three-day competition, to the Hobby School of Public Affairs’ annual Elizabeth D. Rockwell Lecture on Ethics and Leadership . Here are just a few of the traditions that the University celebrates as a whole:

Frontier Fiesta

Dating back to 1939, this springtime action-packed festival features free live concerts, variety shows by student organizations, carnival booths, multicultural performances and a world-class BBQ cook-off. This student-run event was dubbed “The Greatest College Show on Earth” by LIFE magazine in 1958.

Cougar Red Friday

Every Friday is declared Cougar Red Friday, and we wear red to show our pride and passion for the University. Wearing red on Friday is more than just a tradition; it is who we are. It is our visual identity. The color unites us to live and to celebrate together and behold our individual achievements as a singular legacy of pride. We encourage our campus community and those all around the city to wear Red on Fridays.

Rubbing the Paw

Before a big game, Cougar fans rub the paws of the two bronze cougar statues in Cullen Family Plaza, in front of the E. Cullen Building. The statues were a gift to the university from John Moores and Rebecca Moores in 2004. Cougar fans also rub the cougar statue’s paw at Gate 2 of TDECU Stadium on game day. It is believed that the more people rub the paw, the more good luck the Cougars will have. It’s especially important during Homecoming. Sometimes students rub the paw for extra luck for final exams, too.

Cougar Sign

At game time, Cougar fans show their support by making the "Cougar sign," made by folding the ring finger and thumb of the right hand toward the palm. The tradition dates back to 1953, when Shasta I, the presiding cougar mascot, lost a toe in a cage door on the way to a game. The opposing team, the University of Texas, mocked UH by imitating the cougar's injury. The Cougars soon adopted that gesture as a symbol of pride.

Blessing of the Rings

Before the Ring Ceremony, each class ring spends the night with UH’s live cougar mascot, Shasta VII, at the Houston Zoo. In this bi-annual ceremony, Shasta blesses the rings. Then students and alumni receive their class ring at the Ring Ceremony, which is held at the end of each fall and spring semester.

Whose House? Coogs House!

Started in the late 1980s, the famous UH chant, “Whose House? Coogs House!” can be heard loud and proud at Cougar sporting events. The famous mantra was started by former Houston cheerleader Paul Pettit during the 1988 football season because Cougars would go into the competing teams’ stadium and win. The chant energized the fans and has remained a staple cheer.