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On Saturday, November 17th, 2012, at 7:00 p.m., we went back to Cannon Green to re-light a fire that has been dormant for six years, the BONFIRE!

Timeframe unknown

The bonfire is one of the oldest traditions at Princeton University. The Princetoniana Committee, part of the Alumni Association, describes the fire as “one of the most memorable– and sporadic– of all traditional Princeton activities.” The celebratory fire occurs only after the Princeton football team has defeated both Yale and Harvard.

“According to tradition, the construction of the Bonfire rested with the Dink Wearing Freshmen. It was their responsibility to gather wood from the surrounding area, often aided in large part by townspeople and campus construction workers. Once a tall pyre had been placed in the center of Cannon Green, the final adornments usually included an outhouse and an effigy of John Harvard or a Yale Bulldog, or both.” – Princetoniana Committee

Here we showcase just a few of the many historical photographs of bonfires that are in the Princeton University Archives, housed here at the Mudd Manuscript Library. The following reside in the Historical Photograph Collection: Campus Life (AC112)  and the Office of Communications Records (AC168).

Remnants of the 1897 bonfire
Gathering the materials for the 1901 fire.
A large pyre for the 1914 fire
Students turn away from the heat of the flames during the 1946 fire.
Students turn away from the heat of the flames during the 1946 fire.
From 1948: the outhouse is shown with Yale Bowl painted on the side
Football coach Charlie Caldwell ’25 and team captain George Chandler ’51 lighting the bonfire in 1950.
A closer look at the outhouse from the 1952 championship event.
A closer look at the outhouse from the 1952 championship event.


Huge flames during the 1981 bonfire.
Huge flames during the 1981 bonfire.


Students watch the 1985 fire from the trees.


The Princeton Tiger lights the 1994 bonfire.
The most recent fire in 2006. Photo courtesy: John Jameson, Office of Communications
PAW Photo from 2013 - Credit - Beverly Schaefer
PAW Photo from 2013 – Credit – Beverly Schaefer

Princeton Pause also compiled a video from the 2006 fire featuring items from our archives.

More photographs can be viewed in person by visiting the Mudd Reading Room. Digital copies of photos are also available. Start your search with our Historical Photograph Database. 

If you are attending and sharing photos using Twitter or Instagram, please use the hashtag #bonfirePU and contribute to documenting the history of this wonderful event!

Please also feel free to leave a comment about your bonfire memories!

5 responses to “Bonfire!!!”

  1. I was at the 2006 bonfire, during my junior year—after I attended the football game where we beat Yale (where my cousin was going at the time). I remember even students who didn’t particularly like going to Princeton talking about how this was the first time they’d ever felt real school spirit. The bonfire was the SHIZNIT.

  2. If I remember correctly, my uncle, John F. Hoff who owned Princeton Fuel Oil Company, donated the fuel to start the bonfire. Not sure what years he did this.

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