Penn State's Nittany Lion Shrine -- Gift of Class of 1940

Adoption of the Nittany Lion as Penn State's athletic symbol was an idea of Harrison D. "Joe" Mason, a Penn State baseball player. At Princeton in 1904, he and other members of the varsity team were shown two Bengal tigers as an indication of the merciless treatment they would encounter in the game against the Princeton Tigers. Mason replied with an instant fabrication of the Penn State Nittany Mountain Lion — king of the beasts, who could defeat the Tigers. The team did win over Princeton and Mason persevered with his idea for a mascot.

Confusion with the African lion, however, was common until the symbol was officially adopted when the class of 1940 presented its gift of a sculpted mountain lion, similar to the ones that once roamed Nittany Valley — a landmark we now know as the Nittany Lion Shrine. The powerful crouching figure is the work of noted sculptor Heinz Warneke, who carved the lion from a 13-ton block of Indiana limestone. The lion was completed in 1942 and was placed on a grassy mound amid tall trees near Recreation Building on the University Park campus.

Its location near Rec Hall was selected so the mascot could be near the old Beaver Field on the west side of campus and serve as a focal point for pep rallies. Now, with Beaver Stadium on the east side of campus and fewer events in Rec Hall, the Shrine remains quietly in its original location and is an extremely popular photo opportunity for students, alumni and visitors alike.

In fact, the Nittany Lion Shrine is the most recognized — and most photographed — symbol of Penn State.

Photo can be seen at:

This Penn State landmark is part of the iHear Penn State self-guided cell phone campus tour, listed as stop #17. Accessing iHear Penn State is easy. Dial the tour access number (814-308-5020) on your cell phone and follow the instructions. All stops are listed at

The Nittany Lion Shrine on the University Park campus at Penn State. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

Last Updated September 12, 2011