The first Ohio State Football game took place against Ohio Wesleyan University in 1890, about twenty years after the university was founded. For years, people were unaware of the precise location of the first game, but a former athletic director at Ohio Wesleyan did some digging. In an old letter, he found the out the location in a field near a small river in Delaware, Ohio. The community erected the marker there dedicated to the event in 2008. In celebration, the two teams’ fans came together again with bands and cheer squads in tow.


  • This is a photo of the marker taken by William Fischer Jr. just a few months after its establishment.
    This is a photo of the marker taken by William Fischer Jr. just a few months after its establishment.

The Ohio State University was founded as a result of the Morrill Act. It was proposed in 1859 by James Morrill of Vermont. His desire was to provide federal funding for state universities because the majority of higher education at the time was a result of churches creating school branches. It became law in 1862. Ohio was the nineteenth state to accept the act two years later in 1864. When they finally accepted it, the Ohio General Assembly began to sell federally provided land to fund a new school. At first, people argued about how to use the new finances because other schools wanted to benefit from some extra money to utilize for programming. However, as a result of the agricultural nature of Ohio and the Cannon Act, the locals believed they would benefit from a new agricultural school. So, in 1872, the central Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College, now known as Ohio State University, was founded as a public school. Today, Ohio State is known for its football team and legendary players; however, for its first 18 years of existence, it lacked a team altogether. 

There were early efforts in 1886 and 1877 to start a team, but they ended up failing. Yet on May 3, 1890, against all odds, the Ohio State Buckeyes of Columbus made their way 20 miles along the Olentangy River in horse drawn carriages all the way to the Ohio Wesleyan Battling Bishops in Delaware Ohio. At the time, the trip that nowadays takes about a half an hour, took several hours. The game was played at 9:30 in the morning, implying that either the team traveled early in the morning or stayed overnight the night before, a foreign concept today for a game played only a few miles away from the home school. The game was a result of an invitation by Ohio Wesleyan as part of their May Day weekend which at the time celebrated laborers. Now the country more prominently observes Labor Day in September. In the end, the new Ohio State team gained victory over the Battling Bishops with a final score of 20-14.

For years no one knew the exact site of that original game. However, in 2007 a former athletic director of Ohio Wesleyan University went searching for the answer. He found a letter in the archives from a player of the game in 1890. The player mentioned a creek in the county called Delaware Run, a small body of water stemming from the West Branch Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. It was from this letter that they were able to figure out where to place the historical marker. So on May 3, 2008, fans of the two teams came together in Delaware to dedicate a historical marker to the groundbreaking game.

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“Delaware Run.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 1 Sept. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaware_Run.

Fischer, William. “Site of the First Ohio State Football Game Historical Marker.” Historical Marker, 16 June 2016, www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=18316.

“Football: Ohio Wesleyan, Ohio State Football Teams To Celebrate 1890 Matchup.” 
Ohio State Buckeyes, Http://Ohiostatebuckeyes.com/, 16 May 2018, ohiostatebuckeyes.com/football-ohio-wesleyan-ohio-state-football-teams-to-celebrate-1890-matchup/.

“Ohio State Buckeyes Football.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Nov. 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ohio_State_Buckeyes_football#Beginnings_(1890%E2%80%931933).

Ohio State University. “125 Seasons of Buckeye Football.” The Ohio State University, 21 Nov. 2014, www.osu.edu/features/2014/125-years-of-buckeye-football.html.

“Origins.” Born in Adversity: Founding of The Ohio State University, 12 May 2017, library.osu.edu/blogs/founding/origins/.Smith, Michael David. “Ohio Celebrates a Game of Foot Ball.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 4 May 2008, www.nytimes.com/2008/05/04/sports/othersports/04ohio.html.