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This Day in History: USMC's Bulldog Mascots

On this day in 1927, the United States Marine Corps adopts a mascot: the English bulldog. Did you ever wonder why Marines are sometimes called “Devil Dogs” and why their mascot is a bulldog?

There’s more uncertainty surrounding the issue than you might think.

As the story goes, the phrase “Devil Dogs” came into use after the World War I Battle of Belleau Wood. It’s said that Marines fought so ferociously that the Germans called them “Teufel Hunden” or “Devil Dogs.” The Germans thought they were throwing out insults, but Marines took pride in the name.

Official portrait of USMC mascot Chesty XIV

“Teufel Hunden, German Nickname for U.S. Marines,” a recruiting poster soon blared, featuring a bulldog chasing a German dachshund and encouraging Americans to visit the “Devil Dog Recruiting Station.”

Yet the Belleau Wood story can’t be entirely accurate. The phrase first appeared in newspapers more than two weeks before that conflict began.

“The Marines, who have for generations been known as the ‘leathernecks’ the world over,” the Boston Globe reported on April 14, 1918, “are now being referred to by the Germans at the front as the ‘Teufel Hunden,’ the ‘devil dogs,’ . . . The nickname was welcomed by [recruiting] officials.”

But did the Germans really say that? “Teufel Hunden” is misspelled. Even spelled correctly, it’s not a phrase that would normally be used in the German language. Adding to the mystery, the first use of the phrase can’t be pinpointed.

Nevertheless, “Devil Dogs” stuck, becoming part of Marine Corps tradition.

The bulldog mascot soon followed, thanks to Brig. Gen. Smedley D. Butler, commanding officer at the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia. Butler was working to encourage interest in the Marines after the war. He put together a “Quantico Marines” football team—and he purchased an English bulldog named King Bulwark, making it the Quantico mascot.

Obviously, a United States Marine Corps bulldog couldn’t be named “King,” so Butler renamed the dog Jiggs. But Jiggs was more than just a mascot. He was an actual Marine! On October 7, 1922, General Butler signed enlistment papers for Jiggs. The bulldog was a private, and he had duties.

Jiggs was much loved, appearing at events where he could bolster the image of the Marines. He even appeared in a movie, Tell it to the Marines, in 1926. When he passed away in 1927, he was buried in a satin-lined casket and buried with full military honors. By then, he'd been promoted to sergeant major.

A few months later, on June 27, 1927, the bulldog was made the official mascot of the Marine Corps, in honor of Jiggs.

More bulldogs would follow, starting with Jiggs II. Indeed, for years afterwards, USMC mascots were named Jiggs or Smedley. Finally, in 1957, one of the dogs was named Chesty, in honor of Marine legend Chesty Puller. The bulldogs have been named Chesty ever since.

The Marines’ current mascot is Pfc. Chesty XVI.

“Since you relieved your predecessor, you’ve amassed a nearly spotless record,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said at Chesty XVI's recent promotion ceremony. “Literally. No spots on the rug, no sword biting, no assaults on your superiors and no barking in silent drill.”

This was a change from Lance Cpl. Chesty XV, who had to be officially pardoned when he retired.

“Bulldogs are internationally recognized,” an American Kennel Club article concludes, “as symbols of courage. . . . Tough, fearless, tenacious, and muscular, Bulldogs exemplify the fighting spirit of the Marine Corps.”

Semper Fi, Marines!

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