In a 1939 history of the Bucket, IU alumnus J. Frank Lindsey writes that on August 31, 1925 an eight man committee comprised of four individuals from IU and four from Purdue met to discuss joint projects involving the two schools. At this meeting, it was proposed that a football trophy be awarded annually. Eventually the group "recommended an old oaken bucket as the most typically Hoosier form of trophy for the traditional Purdue-Indiana football game." Additional recommendations identified the ideal bucket as one with a chain attached to it consisting of bronze block "I" and "P" letters representing the two schools, with the winner of the game adding a new letter to the chain and retaining the trophy until the following year’s game. It was further suggested that the bucket be taken from a well in Indiana.
The standard and most widely quoted historical accounts on the origins of the Bucket claim it was taken from a farm between Kent and Hanover, Indiana that was owned by a family named Bruner. The region had been settled by the Bruner family in the 1840s, and so the Bucket was assumed to be over 150 years old. However, other evidence suggests that this may not be the real story. In a letter written in 1954 Fritz Ernst, one of the individuals charged with the task of selecting the bucket, wrote the following account: "In order to add a little interest to the bucket we said that the bucket was used on the old Bruner farm…It happened that Mrs. Bruner was my grandmother, and in order to make the above statements true, I took the bucket down to the old Bruner farm, put it down into the well a couple of times and brought up some water from the well." A 1981 article in the Indianapolis Star Magazine suggests another origin for the Bucket. In this article H. Raymond Floyd, an employee of American Steel Foundries in Illinois, claims that the bucket was brought to him for restoration, and his recollection was that the bucket was found in Illinois. Another story on the early history of the Bucket was reported in the Chicago Tribune. According to this account, the Bucket was used by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan during his raids into Indiana and Ohio in July 1863. However, IU History Professor James Madison states that this story is likely untrue, and is probably "an attempt to make the Bucket more precious by connecting it to a historical event that has some sort of mystique."
Whatever the origins of the Bucket, soon after the Bucket was restored, a bronze plaque was placed on its side that stated: "Football Trophy, Presented by Indiana & Purdue Alumni of Chicago 1925." The Bucket’s first appearance was on November 21, 1925 as part of the dedication ceremony for the old Indiana Memorial Football Stadium and for the homecoming game between IU and Purdue. Most accounts of that day barely mention the Bucket. The first mention of the Bucket in the IU student yearbook, The Arbutus, does not occur until after the 1927 game when it is stated that "the Old Oaken Bucket was relinquished for anther year’s siesta in the Boilermaker trophy room."
Now entering its 83rd year, the awarding of the Bucket to the winning team is the second oldest trophy tradition in collegiate football, eclipsed only by the Little Brown Jug, which since 1902 has been awarded to the winner of the game between Minnesota and Michigan.
Text by Philip Bantin, Indiana University