The Story of Honolulu Blue

The Lions have worn their trademark blue uniforms since the team’s very first season in Detroit in 1934. Now known as “Honolulu Blue,” the distinctive shade has evolved a bit over the years. There are several origin stories for how the club selected the color.


c. 1952 jacket body of royal blue wool, sleeves of buff leather, neck cuffs and waist of blue and buff stockinette, inset of blue stockinette atarnisych, snap closure with large brass snaps, black pleated slash pockets on front, edged with buff leather, patch on left breast shows football player and Lion above words "Detroit Lions", chain stitch on white felt, black, blue, silver and gold, shield shaped patch on right sleeve blue, white and gold, "World Champions 52-53", lined with tan jersey. label in neck "King O'Shea Chicago" Worn by member of Detroit Lions, probably Bobby Layne c. 1954. Detroit Historical Society collection.

1930s Origins

In March 1934, the Detroit Free Press announced the NFL’s Portsmouth Spartans would be moving to Detroit. With less than six months before their first game, new owner George Richards got right to work making decisions that are still with us 90 seasons later.

In July 1934, Richards announced that Detroit’s new NFL team would be called the Lions. His reasoning: “The Lion is the king of the jungle, and the Detroit Lions will be the kings of the NFL.”

The same day, the team announced it would wear blue uniforms (no additional description) with silver trim.


c. 1936 program from a game between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears played at University of Detroit Stadium on November 26, 1936. Includes rosters, Lions official songs and yells, and articles about club reporter Harry Wismer, the Michigan State College Band, and Dutch Clark. Front cover features collage of many football players. Owner George Richards is in the upper left corner. Detroit Historical Society collection


According to the July 22, 1934 edition of the Detroit Free Press:

[Lions General Manager Cy] Houston selected the uniforms of the Lions last week, and if the boys fail to measure up to colorful expectations as far as their football is concerned, they will still be colorful to look at. Equipment purchased yesterday disclosed that the jerseys will be blue. Asked what kind of blue, Houston said: ‘I don’t know. They’ve had me looking at so many blues I'm blue in the face. But anyway, it’s the kind of blue I am told that will match with silver.'

The helmets will be silver. The same color was selected for the pants […]Silver numbers, front and back will adorn the jerseys. The players will wear blue sox.

It is important to note that Houston makes no mention of “Honolulu Blue.”

According to the 1950 Lions Media Guide:

The blue, a distinctive shade, was especially developed for G.A. Richards. […] their first owner came up with the color after admiring the hue of the Pacific Ocean on a trip to Hawaii and the shade was named 'Honolulu blue.'


c. 1936 Black and white photographic print depicting members of the Detroit Lions and several women wearing leis and standing on the steps of 'Iolani Palace in Honolulu. In front stand team owner George Richards and Joseph Poindexter,Territorial Governor of Hawaii. Detroit Historical Society collection.

Other Sources

In a 1999 interview with historian Bill Dow, Glenn Presnell Detroit Lions tailback (1934-1936) tells the story of how he and his wife picked the Lions distinctive shade of blue.

When I went up to [Detroit] to be interviewed for my for my contract […] we went out in the next room and [George Richards] said that we should look over these jersey colors. They had a table with all the different kinds of jerseys: orange and black, red and white, and my wife and I saw the Honolulu Blue and silver and that's what we liked, so he selected that.

Even though Presnell makes mention of “Honolulu Blue,” there appears to be no use of that phrase in the historical record in relation to the Lions until 1948. That year, new Head Coach Bo McMillian, formerly of Indiana University, announced that the Lions would wear red and white uniforms for certain games that season. The newspaper was lamenting the change and likely coined the phrase.

In fact, the first use of the words “Honolulu Blue” in the Detroit Free Press comes from a 1941 classified ad for a Buick Special automobile for sale painted “Honolulu Blue.”

While GM's Honolulu Blue never matched Lions blue, even in the 1930s and 40s when the Lions wore a much darker shade than they do today, the color’s origin story as an option for GM cars is fitting for the Motor City’s football team!


c. 1941 General Motors paint swatch

More to Explore

See team artifacts on display everyday in the Detroit Historical Museum's Allesee Gallery of Culture and show your pride with Lion's merchandise in our museum store. Go Lions!


1990 jersey and helmet in a modern Lions blue on display at the Detroit Historical Museum.