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The Billiken was a charm doll created by an American art teacher and illustrator, Ms. Florence Pretz of St. Louis, Missouri, who is said to have seen the mysterious figure in a dream. In 1908 she patented the Billiken who was elf 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. One point on Billiken luck: To buy a Billiken gives the purchaser luck, but to have one given to you is better luck. The Billiken was one of the first copyrighted 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 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.
Today, the Billiken is the official mascot of Saint Louis University 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 Dorothy Jean Ray that first appeared in Alaska Sportsman (now Alaska) in 1960, with an updated version in Alaska Journal in 1973.
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/Billycan't 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 of Saint Louis University, because the figure was said to resemble coach John R. Bender. 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 of nearby Saint Louis University High School; a stainless steel statue of the Junior Billiken stands adjacent to the Danis Fieldhouse, on the St. Louis University High School Campus. Bud Billiken was a youth club mascot for the Chicago Defender, 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 and Robert Taylor movie Waterloo Bridge. 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 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 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 for 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 (a league that dwelled in several classifications between 1906 and 1912), and the McLeansboro Billikens of the 1910 Kentucky Illinois Tennessee League (''KITTY League''), (a Class D professional baseball league that ran from 1903 until 1955). McLeansboro is a strongly Roman Catholic community located 116 miles from St. Louis. Williamsville South also uses the Billiken, and uses the actual charm as a smoking device in the sports shed.
Billiken in Alaska
In 1909, the Billiken began its appearance in souvenir shops of Alaska. In Nome, Alaska, 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.