The Nittany Lion as Penn State’s mascot originated with Harrison D. "Joe" Mason ’07. At a baseball game against Princeton in 1904, Mason and other members of Penn State’s team were shown a statue of Princeton's famous Bengal tiger as an indication of the merciless treatment they could expect to encounter on the field. Since Penn State lacked a mascot, Mason replied with an instant fabrication of the Nittany Lion, "fiercest beast of them all," who could overcome even the tiger. Penn State went on to defeat Princeton that day. Over the next few years, Mason's "Nittany Lion" won such widespread support among students, alumni, and fans that there was never any official vote on its adoption.
The Nittany Lion is essentially an ordinary mountain lion (also known as a cougar, puma, or panther), a creature that roamed central Pennsylvania until the 1880s (although unconfirmed sightings continued long after that time). By attaching the prefix "Nittany" to this beast, Mason gave Penn State a unique symbol that no other college or university could claim.
The word Nittany is derived from the Algonquian word Nit-A-Nee meaning "single mountain". According to the Penn State folklore, Nit-A-Nee is also the name of a Native American maiden whose actions caused Mount Nittany to be formed.
Elements of the tale include the tragic legend of Indian Princess Nita-nee, for whom the majestic mountain in Central Pennsylvania is named; the story of the Original Nittany Lion, the elusive mountain lion that once roamed the hills of Pennsylvania; the 1904 Penn State baseball game at Princeton University, where the idea of a school mascot was born; the creation of the famous limestone Nittany Lion Shrine on Penn State’s University Park campus