History

Since its inception in 1909, Picnic Day has become the crown-jewel event of the UC system and the signature event of UC Davis. Believed to be the largest student-run event in the nation, Picnic Day showcases the richness of diversity and achievement at UC Davis and the surrounding community in the areas of research, teaching, service, and campus life. This year, the whole community celebrates its 103rd year of tradition and success.

Picnic Day, the annual Open House for the University of California, Davis, is one of the largest student-run events in the nation. This hallmark event has been designed to showcase and celebrate the richness of campus life, the diverse achievements of UCD students, staff and faculty to provide a day of education, information and entertainment to all who attend. There will be more than 200 events throughout the campus and an estimated 75,000+ visitors attending this special event. This long-standing campus tradition began in 1909 when the University Farm invited the surrounding community to view their new dairy barn. Two thousand attended, bringing picnics to complement the coffee, cream and sugar provided by the University. Following the success of the 1909 picnic, the faculty of the University Farm continued to plan and sponsor the event until a student committee took over the task in 1912.

The Picnic Day student Board of Directors is a unit of the Associated Students of the University of California, Davis (ASUCD). Picnic Day attendance began to grow in leaps and bounds. In 1915, 5,000 people gathered to enjoy the picnicking and square dancing at the University Farm. The next year this figure tripled to 15,000, far outnumbering the 314 students hosting the event. This increase in attendance was in large part due to Molly, a dairy cow who performed a record 97 hour cow-walk from Davis to Berkeley to publicize the event. A few years later, Molly’s son, Pete, carried on the traditional walk to Berkeley, following in his mother’s footsteps. By 1925, Picnic Day had grown to such an extent that the student committee felt the necessity to begin planning and organizing the event six weeks in advance. In the years that have transpired since then, the event has expanded to the point that preparations begin the previous June with the onset of the academic year. Classes were cancelled the day before Picnic Day in 1935 so that students could help prepare for the event. Unfortunately, this did not remain as one of the many Picnic Day traditions!

Through the years of Picnic Day history, in only five cases has the event been cancelled. In 1924, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth diseases among the cowherds caused the first cancellation of the event. In 1938, delayed construction of the gymnasium, which was needed to accommodate the ever-increasing number of participants led to a second cancellation. During World War II, the Army Signal Corps controlled the campus and Picnic Day disappeared from 1942 though 1944. Since 1945, Picnic Day has been growing strong, and now boasts an attendance of more than 50,000 people.

Emerging from its humble beginnings as a tour of the University Farm’s new dairy barn, today Picnic Day offers a wide variety of entertainment provide a host of opportunities for visitors to the Davis Campus.