The Billiken was a charm doll created by an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 art teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908, she patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

ed the Billiken, who was elf
An elf is a being of Germanic mythology. The elves were originally thought of as a race of divine beings endowed with magical powers, which they use both for the benefit and the injury of mankind...

-like with pointed ears, a mischievous smile and a tuft of hair on his pointed head. His arms were short and he was generally sitting with his legs stretched out in front of him. To buy a Billiken was said to give the purchaser luck, but to have one given would be better luck. The Billiken was one of the first copyright
Copyright is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, giving the creator of an original work exclusive rights to it, usually for a limited time...

ed dolls and the first likenesses of the Billiken, banks and statues, were produced in 1909. After a few years of popularity, like many other fad
In biochemistry, flavin adenine dinucleotide is a redox cofactor involved in several important reactions in metabolism. FAD can exist in two different redox states, which it converts between by accepting or donating electrons. The molecule consists of a riboflavin moiety bound to the phosphate...

 toys, the Billiken faded into obscurity. The Billiken should not be confused with baby-like Kewpie figures that debuted in the December 1909 Ladies' Home Journal
Ladies' Home Journal
Ladies' Home Journal is an American magazine which first appeared on February 16, 1883, and eventually became one of the leading women's magazines of the 20th century in the United States...


Today, the Billiken is the official mascot of Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University is a private, co-educational Jesuit university located in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. Founded in 1818 by the Most Reverend Louis Guillaume Valentin Dubourg SLU is the oldest university west of the Mississippi River. It is one of 28 member institutions of the...

 and St. Louis University High, both Jesuit institutions, and both located in St. Louis.

Many current on-line articles about the Billikens are based on an article by anthropologist
Anthropology is the study of humanity. It has origins in the humanities, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. The term "anthropology" is from the Greek anthrōpos , "man", understood to mean mankind or humanity, and -logia , "discourse" or "study", and was first used in 1501 by German...

 Dorothy Jean Ray
Dorothy Jean Ray
Dorothy Jean Ray was an author and anthropologist best known for her study of Native Alaskan art and culture....

 that first appeared in Alaska Sportsman (now Alaska) in 1960, with an updated version in Alaska Journal in 1973.

Billiken, his life and times

The Billiken sprang from the height of the "Mind-Cure" craze in the United States at the start of the twentieth century. It represented the "no worry" ideal, and was a huge hit. Variations appeared, such as the "Teddy-Billiken Doll" and the Billycan/Billycant pair (to drive petty problems away). The Billiken helped touch off the doll craze of the era.

In its heyday, the Billiken enjoyed worldwide celebrity. In America he became the athletic mascot
The term mascot – defined as a term for any person, animal, or object thought to bring luck – colloquially includes anything used to represent a group with a common public identity, such as a school, professional sports team, society, military unit, or brand name...

 of Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University
Saint Louis University is a private, co-educational Jesuit university located in St. Louis, Missouri, United States. Founded in 1818 by the Most Reverend Louis Guillaume Valentin Dubourg SLU is the oldest university west of the Mississippi River. It is one of 28 member institutions of the...

, because the figure was said to resemble coach John R. Bender
John R. Bender
John R. "Chief" Bender was an American football player and coach of football, basketball and baseball. He served as the head football coach at Washington State University , Haskell Indian Nations University , Kansas State University , and the University of Tennessee , compiling a career record of...

. The school's athletic teams remain the Billikens to this day. A bronze statue of the Billiken stands in front of the Chaifetz Arena on the Saint Louis University Campus. A junior version of the Billiken became the mascot
The term mascot – defined as a term for any person, animal, or object thought to bring luck – colloquially includes anything used to represent a group with a common public identity, such as a school, professional sports team, society, military unit, or brand name...

 of nearby Saint Louis University High School
Saint Louis University High School
St. Louis University High School , a Jesuit Catholic high school for boys founded in 1818, is the oldest secondary educational institution in the U.S. west of the Mississippi River, and one of the largest private high schools in Missouri. It is located in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Saint...

; a stainless steel statue of the Junior Billiken stands adjacent to the Danis Fieldhouse, on the St. Louis University High School Campus. Bud Billiken
Bud Billiken Club
The Bud Billiken Club was a club for black youths in Chicago founded by the Chicago Defender founder Robert Sengstacke Abbott and its editor, Lucius Harper, in 1923. The Club was formed as part of the paper’s children’s page, the Defender Junior, to encourage readership, appropriate conduct, and...

 was a youth-club mascot for the Chicago Defender
Chicago Defender
The Chicago Defender is a Chicago based newspaper founded in 1905 by an African American for primarily African American readers.In just three years from 1919–1922 the Defender also attracted the writing talents of Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks....

, and was created in 1923.

At least two Billiken-themed songs were recorded, including "Billiken Rag" and the "Billiken Man Song."

The billiken, as a good luck charm, appears multiple times in the Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh
Vivien Leigh, Lady Olivier was an English actress. She won the Best Actress Academy Award for her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire , a role she also played on stage in London's West End, as well as for her portrayal of the southern belle Scarlett O'Hara, alongside Clark...

 and Robert Taylor
Robert Taylor (actor)
Robert Taylor was an American film and television actor.-Early life:Born Spangler Arlington Brugh in Filley, Nebraska, he was the son of Ruth Adaline and Spangler Andrew Brugh, who was a farmer turned doctor...

 movie Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge (1940 film)
Waterloo Bridge is a 1940 remake of the 1931 film of the same title, adapted from the 1930 play of the same title.The film was made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by Sidney Franklin and Mervyn LeRoy. The screenplay is by S. N. Behrman, Hans Rameau and George...

. It is employed as a device that both prompts recollections of the male lead, Robert Taylor, and that links several scenes within the movie as the plot unfolds.

The Billiken made its Japanese
Japan is an island nation in East Asia. Located in the Pacific Ocean, it lies to the east of the Sea of Japan, China, North Korea, South Korea and Russia, stretching from the Sea of Okhotsk in the north to the East China Sea and Taiwan in the south...

 debut in 1908. A statue was installed in the uppermost level of the original Tsutenkaku Tower as it was opened to the public in 1912. When the nearby Luna Park
Luna Park, Osaka
Osaka's Luna Park was Japan's second amusement park of the same name, replacing the destroyed Luna Park in Tokyo...

 was closed in 1925, the tower's Billiken statue disappeared. In 1980, a replacement statue made its appearance in a new Tsutenkaku Tower that was built in 1956.

Use as mascot by other sports teams

The Billiken was the team nickname for three minor league professional baseball teams: the Montgomery Billikens of the 1910 Southern Association (a Class A league that ran from 1902-1935), the Bay City Billikens of the 1911 and 1912 Southern Michigan League
Southern Michigan League
The Southern Michigan League was a Minor League Baseball circuit which operated between 1906 and 1912. It was classified as a Class D league from 1906 to 1910 and as a Class C league from 1911 to 1912...

 (a league that dwelled in several classifications between 1906 and 1912), and the McLeansboro Billikens of the 1910 Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League
Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League
The Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee League was a Class D minor league baseball circuit that went through six different lives. The first KITTY League played from 1903 through 1906. The next one ran from 1910 through 1914. The third try played a single season . The circuit was revived in 1922 and lasted...

 ("KITTY League"), (a Class D professional baseball league that ran from 1903 until 1955). McLeansboro
McLeansboro, Illinois
McLeansboro is a city in Hamilton County, Illinois, United States. The population was 2,883 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Hamilton County. Located in Southern Illinois, the town was named for Dr. William B. McLean, who donated the land for its founding...

 is a strongly-Roman Catholic community located 116 miles from St. Louis. Williamsville South also uses the Billiken as a mascot.

Billiken in Alaska

In 1909, the Billiken began its appearance in souvenir shops of Alaska. In Nome, Alaska
Nome, Alaska
Nome is a city in the Nome Census Area in the Unorganized Borough of the U.S. state of Alaska, located on the southern Seward Peninsula coast on Norton Sound of the Bering Sea. According to the 2010 Census, the city population was 3,598. Nome was incorporated on April 9, 1901, and was once the...

, an Eskimo carver by the name Angokwazhuk copied a Billiken figurine in ivory brought to him by a merchant. Since that first appearance in Alaska, some Eskimo carvers began to include the billiken in the collection of figurines they created. By the 1960s the Billiken was ubiquitous in larger Alaskan cities like Anchorage, and heavily touristed areas. Billikens were often carved from Alaskan ivory and were used in jewelry and knick-knacks. Often these souvenirs were accompanied by printed, romanticized Billiken lore. In Anchorage, the name was also adopted by merchants, as in the Billiken Drive-In movie theater.

Billiken goes to Japan

Throughout Japan representations of the Billiken were enshrined. Pre-World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 statues of the Billiken can be found in Kobe
, pronounced , is the fifth-largest city in Japan and is the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture on the southern side of the main island of Honshū, approximately west of Osaka...

 city's Chinju Inari and Matsuo Inari shrines. Both of these statues were removed from display for many years at the onset of the war when foreign deities fell out of favor.

The most famous representation of the Billiken was in an amusement park, Luna Park, in the Shinsekai
Shinsekai , "New World" in English, is an old neighbourhood located next to south Osaka City's downtown "Minami" area. The neighbourhood was created in 1912 with New York as a model for its southern half and Paris for its northern half...

 district of Osaka
is a city in the Kansai region of Japan's main island of Honshu, a designated city under the Local Autonomy Law, the capital city of Osaka Prefecture and also the biggest part of Keihanshin area, which is represented by three major cities of Japan, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe...

, Japan. In 1912, he was enshrined in the park as a symbol of Americana and there was revered as "The God of Things As They Ought to Be". Popular Billiken souvenirs in the park included dolls and manju (sweet buns filled with red paste). When the park closed in 1923, the wooden statue of the Billiken went missing.

A replica of the statue was placed in the second-generation Tsutenkaku
, lit. "Tower Reaching Heaven", owned by Tsūtenkaku Kanko Co., Ltd. is a well-known landmark of Osaka, Japan and advertises Hitachi. It is located in the Shinsekai district of Naniwa-ku, Osaka....

 Tower in 1980. Presently he resides on the fifth floor observation deck and has become closely associated with the tower. Each year thousands of visitors place a coin in his donation box and rub the soles of his well-worn feet to make their wishes come true. In October 2008, the Billiken of Tsutenkaku took a journey all the way from Japan to its founding city of St. Louis where it was visited by students of St. Louis University High School, whose mascot is also the billiken.

The statue was a permanent fixture in the tower until September 2005 when it made its first departure and was taken, as an ambassador of sorts, to Shibuya
Shibuya, Tokyo
is one of the 23 special wards of Tokyo, Japan. As of 2008, it has an estimated population of 208,371 and a population density of 13,540 persons per km². The total area is 15.11 km²....

's Tokyu department store in Tokyo
, ; officially , is one of the 47 prefectures of Japan. Tokyo is the capital of Japan, the center of the Greater Tokyo Area, and the largest metropolitan area of Japan. It is the seat of the Japanese government and the Imperial Palace, and the home of the Japanese Imperial Family...

 as a part of a fair to promote Naniwa
Naniwa can refer to:* The former name of Osaka, Japan* Naniwa-ku , a ward in Osaka* The Naniwa Vehicle Registration Office of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, which issues "Naniwa" license plates for automobiles registered in the city of Osaka* Naniwa, an express train that once...

 (traditional Osaka) culture. As a part of the cultural exchange, a replica of the statue of Shibuya's most famous dog, Hachikō
, known in Japanese as chūken Hachikō , was an Akita dog born on a farm near the city of Ōdate, Akita Prefecture, remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner, even many years after his owner's death.-Life:In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno,...

, was sent to Osaka.

The Billiken was a star in Sakamoto Junji's 1996 comedy Billiken in which the statue is restored to the Tsutenkaku in an effort to revive the popularity of the tower and save Shinsekai.

The Billiken also became the namesake of the Japanese toy & model manufacturing company of the same name.

External links

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