History

Pledge from the First Picnic Day

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 104th 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.

Through the years of Picnic Day history, in only five cases has the event been cancelled. In 1924, an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease 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 1943 to 1945. Since 1946, Picnic Day has been growing strong and now boasts an attendance of more than 70,000 people.

Emerging from humble beginnings as a tour of the University Farm’s new dairy barn, Picnic Day now offers a wide variety of entertainment and provides a host of opportunities for visitors to the Davis campus.  Scroll through the timeline below to learn more about each year’s highlights.

  • 1909

    • The first Picnic Day was celebrated between faculty members and students
    • For publicity, Molly the cow walked from Davis (then Davisville) to Berkeley, taking 97 hours
    • More than 2,200 people attended
    • Ceremonies lasted from 11am until 12:30pm. After 12:30, people hung around and had a picnic at Dairy Barn
    • The university supplied coffee and cream, but people had to bring their own cups and spoons
  • 1910

    • Celebration upon the completion of new buildings
    • From 12 to 2, the bachelor girls club of Davis served lunch for a small fee
    • After lunch at 2, we talked about the new buildings (the dining hall, the vet science building, etc.)
    • The band played for the rest of the day
  • 1912

    • A student committee took over the task of planning and sponsoring Picnic Day
    • A livestock parade was held
  • 1915

    • 5,000 people gathered to enjoy the picnicking and square dancing at the University Farm
  • 1916

    • Attendance tripled to 15,000, far outnumbering the 314 students hosting the event
    • There was a jousting contest!
    • First time the event was called “Picnic Day”
  • 1917

    • First year the parade had a float
  • 1918

    • First year to include floats on the Schedule of Events
  • 1919

    • Events included an exhibition stunt/combat flying demonstration
  • 1921

    • Pete, Molly the cow’s son, attempted to break his mother’s record of 97 hours and 11 minutes walk
      from Berkeley to Davis
  • 1922

    • The program features the fat men’s race, boys’ 3-legged race, boys’ pie eating contest, baseball throwing contest, tug-o-war, and a greased pig race
  • 1923

    • The program featured an irrigation demonstration and a butter-making demonstration, and it lasted from 9 am until 10 pm
    • Ended with a supper dance
    • The Committee of Chairman (Board of Directors) featured positions such as finance, labor, reception, refreshments, athletics, dance, and circus
  • 1924

    • Picnic Day was cancelled for the first time due to an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth diseases among the cowherds
  • 1925

    • The program features a Baby Show along with 3 dances: “Old Timers”, Alumni, and modern, popular dance performed by the students
    • “Gun Rock” makes an appearance
    • The Committee of Chairman adds Women’s Activities, Stunts, Clean-up, and Demonstrations committees
  • 1926

    • The festivities include a water fight in “Quadrangle”
    • The Committee of Chairman is further expanded to include Awards, Decorations, and Deputations
    • First Picnic Day with ads
  • 1927

    • Events include a greased pole climb and a mule riding contest
    • Free buttermilk was served in the Dairy Industry Bldg all day
    • There were sections for “Facts about the College of Ag”
    • We went all out with an eight ring circus
    • Contests included tree judging and dairy judging
    • The county Board of Supervisors petitioned for Picnic Day to be a holiday, though this was later denied
    • The Committee of Chairman adds a couple interesting positions: Women’s Activities, Dance, and Stunts
  • 1928

    • At this time, UC Davis was still “the only strictly agricultural college in the US”
    • There was a train to go between exhibits to minimize walking
  • 1929

    • This year featured a special “Picnic Days of the Past and the Present”
    • The University Farm spans 1100 acres of land and is primarily used for teaching and research on agricultural issues
    • Events included a cowboy pageant and a farmerette contest questionnaire, which tested women’s basic farm and household knowledge
  • 1930

    • A map was added to the brochure
    • We had a “Glee Club”
    • Enrollment: 276 non-degree students, 134 degree students, also tallied the number of
      livestock
  • 1931

    • Souvenir brochures costs 10 cents each
    • The Associated Students Store sold tobacco
  • 1932

    • Featured a hog weight guessing contest
  • 1933

    • Exhibits included a bacteria counting demonstration in the Dairy Industry Building and a Plan Breeding demonstration in the Truck Crops Class Room Building
    • Showcased a cow with a window in its stomach in the Animal Sciences Building
    • Included a rodent control demonstration/informational session
    • Featured a fashion show where South Hall girls modeled the newest sportswear, street dresses, and afternoon and evening frocks
    • Demonstration of bee handling
    • Parade was in the afternoon from 1:45pm till 2:45pm
    • Only one woman, Bernice L. Fry, was on the board.  She was in charge of Women’s Activities.
  • 1934

    • The only woman on the board was Alta Eggert, who was in charge of Women’s Activities
    • The university had grown to 100 staff members and 436 students (180 degree students and 256 non degree students) and had 6 buildings
  • 1935

    • Classes were cancelled the day before Picnic Day so that students could help prepare for the event
    • Eight students rode on horses from Davis to Sacramento to invite the Governor to Picnic Day
    • The university had 507 students total (338 non degree students, 137 degree students, 32 graduate students), still only 100 faculty members
    • The events included a display of weed control equipment
    • More attention was given to the educational exhibits designed to show a few samples of what the research staff was doing to solve farm problems.  We showed off pens of chicks to illustrate the rapidity with which young chicks show the effects of a deficiency of vitamins B and G in their diets, various flowers and soils, and truck crops which had a large outdoor planting that was in full bloom by Picnic Day
  • 1936

    • The division of home economics was introduced, and girls showed off useful, labor saving, and beautiful kitchen utensils and equipment, demonstrated how a table should be set, and taught hand weaving so that everyone could show off their swagger throughout spring
    • High school bands had to camp on hay because there were no other available accommodations
    • Special event: Alumni meeting
    • Food sold at event included punch, ice cream, hot dogs, iced milk, iced butter-milk, popcorn, box lunches, and chocolate milk
    • 939 students and 130 faculty members – a new record!
  • 1937

    • Student attendance reached 1,333 with approximately 100 women
    • Special Event: Alumni meeting
  • 1938

    • Picnic Day is cancelled for the second time on account of rain damage
  • 1939

    • A horse show from 2:30 to 5:00 was one of the main attractions of Picnic Day
    • There was a military science exhibit where various weapons were demonstrated
    • There were officially 1310 students enrolled in UC Davis
  • 1940

    • A new gymnasium had just been finished being built for Picnic Day
    • There were two dances held. There was an “Old Time Dance” from 8:30 to 12:00 in the old gymnasium and there was a “Modern Dance” in the new gymnasium
  • 1941

    • This year featured pigeon races that kicked off the start of Picnic Day. At 9 am, in the middle of the Quad, pigeons raced from Davis to Merced (136 miles) and from Davis to Glendale (65 miles). There
      was also a race from Davis to San Francisco (62 miles).
  • 1942 - 1944

    • Due to World War II, the Army Signal Corps controlled the campus and Picnic Day was cancelled
  • 1951

    • Governor Earl Warren (of the Warren court, which ended segregation in schools) came to Picnic Day!
    • Students pushed wheelbarrows to Berkeley for publicity
  • 1954

    • Fraternities and sororities were in charge of clean-up
  • 1972

    • The Wiener Dog Race (now known as the famous Doxie Derby) was first introduced
  • 1982

    • Precision briefcase performance in the parade
    • Parade route is shorter to be more campus oriented
  • 1983

    • A cow milking contest was held in Sacramento
  • 1984

    • Festivities included a barbershop chorus of 80-100 professional singers
  • 1985

    • A moot court was held at King Hall where four law students debated on the separation of church and state
  • 1986

    • We showed off our strength with a bodybuilder competition between students and faculty
  • 1987

    • Picnic day started an hour later than usual at 10 am
    • The first-place float of the Alpha Phi ended up in flames!
  • 1988

    • God is listed as being responsible for a sunny day
  • 2001

    • A sheep in the animal events area ran away
  • 2003

    • The Multicultural Children’s Fair was introduced
  • 2007

    • Due to rain, all outdoor animal events were canceled, but the parade continued as always!
    • The Non-Profit Organization Fair was introduced
  • 2009

    • UC Davis celebrated its Centennial, and Picnic Day was selected as one of the three major events for
      the Centennial celebration
  • 2011

    • Tom & Meg Stallard, who served together on the Picnic Board of Directors in 1968 and the 2010
      Parade Marshals, created the Friends of Picnic Day endowment with their recognition from the The
      Charles J. Soderquist Award