The mascot was the creation of Penn State senior H. D. "Joe" Mason in 1907 since the Nittany Lion is not a real animal. While on a 1904 trip to Princeton University, Mason had been embarrassed that Penn State did not have a mascot. Mason did not let that deter him: he fabricated the Nittany Lion on the spot and proclaimed that it would easily defeat the Princeton Bengal tiger. The Lion's primary means of attack against the Tiger would be its strong right arm, capable of slaying any foes (this is now traditionally exemplified through one-armed push-ups after the team scores a touchdown). Upon returning to campus, he set about making his invention a reality. In 1907, he wrote in the student publication The Lemon:
Every college the world over of any consequence has a college emblem of some kind—all but The Pennsylvania State College . . .. Why not select for ours the king of beasts—the Lion!! Dignified, courageous, magnificent, the Lion allegorically represents all that our College Spirit should be, so why not 'the Nittany Mountain Lion'? Why cannot State have a kingly, all-conquering Lion as the eternal sentinel?
Mountain lions had roamed on nearby Mount Nittany until the 1880s. The origin of the name "Mount Nittany" is obscure, the most commonly accepted explanation being that it is derived of Native American words (loosely pronounced as "neet-a-nee") named after the cougars that roamed the mountain or "single mountain" - a protective barrier against the elements.