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The story of the first Cal Poly Rose Float in 1949

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Somehow New Year’s Day in Pasadena always seems to be sunny.

In the winter of 1890, the Valley Hunt Club was coming up with ways to promote the “Mediterranean of the West.”

Former East Coast neighbors were invited to enjoy polo, jousting, chariot races and foot races.

The description on the Tournament of Roses website makes the event sound like a big Renaissance fair.

One of the events that showcased the mild Southern California climate was a parade that featured fresh flowers.

By 1895 the parade had grown too large for the Valley Hunt Club, and the Tournament of Roses Association was formed to carry the event forward.

According to the Archive of American Television, a college football game was added in 1902 to help fund staging of the parade.

The parade would grow to eclipse all the founding activities.

The first parade broadcast on television was by KTLA in 1947.

The Rose Parade made television history in 1954 when NBC beamed the first NTSC color broadcast.

Cal Poly did not exist when the Rose Parade was founded; the school wasn’t born until the dawn of the 20th century.

However, by the time the parade was broadcast nationwide in color, Cal Poly was a veteran float maker.

GALLERY: Photos of Cal Poly Rose Parade floats through the years »

Today, planning and building takes almost a full year, and funding comes from Associated Students Inc. and the university. Cal Poly is the oldest collegiate entry and sixth-oldest continuing contributor.

Not many venues can offer 200,000 spectators and an international audience of 500 million television viewers.

According to the Cal Poly Pomona University Library website, the school’s first float was a 90-day low-budget miracle.

Though Cal Poly was founded in San Luis Obispo, it had a younger sister. Two benefactors donated land to establish a Southern California campus.

The Kellogg and Voorhis names and San Dimas would all be part of a shifting series of names until the moniker was simplified to Cal Poly Pomona.

Cal Poly student Don Miller was from a longtime Pasadena family and had been a vocal advocate of a Cal Poly Rose Parade float.

When the committee called him offering a parade berth he said “Sure!”

He got support from Cal Poly President Julian McPhee, Voorhis Campus Dean Harold Wilson and instructors Oliver “Jolly” Batcheller (ornamental horticulture) and Quin Conrad (agricultural engineering.)

A budget of $258 was scrounged, and the rookie float builders had 90 days to finish. According to the Cal Poly Pomona Library website, creative requisitioning of supplies was necessary to complete the project.

Campus plants overdue for “heavy pruning” and midnight flower and lumber raids helped complete the project.

Appropriately for schools with the mascot of mustang (San Luis Obispo) and bronco (Pomona), the first float had a horse.

In the official photo, Jolly Batcheller’s son Chip rides the rocking horse on New Year’s Day 1949 and student Don Miller stands at left in trench coat.

When parade spectators tossed candy to Chip, the boy tossed handfuls of flowers back. By the time the parade finished, every flower he could reach had been plucked and thrown.

The Cal Poly Universities separated in 1966 but still share this project, competing against professional builders, and have won almost 50 awards.

They were the first float to use hydraulic animation, in 1968; computer-controlled animation, 1978; and fiber optics, 1982.

The 2015 theme is “Soaring Stories” featuring a castle, books and a flying gryphon.

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