The first mascot was a live, caged bear cub from the Lincoln Park Zoo named Furpaw. In fall 1923, Furpaw was driven to the playing field to greet the fans before each game. After a losing season, the team decided that Furpaw was the harbinger of bad luck and banished him from campus.
The name "Wildcats" was bestowed upon the university in 1924 by a writer for the Chicago Tribune who wrote that even in a loss to the University of Chicago Maroons, the Northwestern football players looked like "Wildcats [that] had come down from Evanston." The name was so popular that university board members made "Wildcats" the official nickname just months later.
In 1933, the Northwestern athletic department and an advertising firm created the first image of Willie. He did not actually come to life until 1947, when members of the Alpha Delta fraternity dressed up as him during the Homecoming parade.
In 2007, the first football game revealed a new-look Willie after a "makeover".