While not clear exactly when, why, or how red and white were chosen to represent Illinois State, it is known that the tradition began prior to the 20th century. A passage in the 1896 Index reads:
"Prior to this year, the athletics spirit of ISNU was very weak ... this year, the faculty came to our rescue, so that now the athletics association is a permanent institution ... our representatives in the football and baseball teams now go forth to meet their victims, handsomely caparisoned in red suits with white caps and belts—these being the school colors."
In 1923, athletics director Clifford E. "Pop" Horton and Daily Pantagraph sports editor Fred Young collaborated to change the University's unofficial nickname away from "Fighting Teachers." Horton wanted "Cardinals," but Young changed the nickname to "Red Birds" to avoid confusion with St. Louis' baseball team. Over the next decade "Red Birds" morphed into "Redbirds."
Early versions of what might be considered a Redbird logo began appearing by the 1930s. The first renditions either borrowed heavily from the St. Louis Cardinals or were realistic illustrations of a cardinal in a tree.
By the 1960s, four bulked-up, tough looking birds joined together to spell "ISNU" on their shirts. The bird wearing "N" disappeared after "Normal" was dropped from the University's name in 1964. This design eventually gave way to anthropomorphic birds dribbling a basketball and carrying a football.
It wasn't until the "thumbs-up" bird came along in the early 1980s that the University settled on a standard redbird logo. The current redbird head logo was unveiled in 1996.
Reggie Redbird's appearance as ISU's mascot has changed over the years as well. Bird mascots were introduced at games in the 1950s. In 1981, the mascot was named when he was coined "Reggie Redbird" by the Junior Redbird Club, naming him after baseball great Reggie Jackson. He's been a fixture at games, on campus, and throughout the community ever since.