It was sometime in 1889 during a meeting of the Valley Hunt Club that a distinguished professor by the name of Dr. Charles F. Holder shared an idea he had with his fellow club members. He suggested that the Club sponsor some sort of winter festival that would ring in the New Year with a floral display and games. The idea came to him after thinking much about the terrible weather the east coast normally experiences during this time of year. Having come from Massachusetts, Dr. Holder was all too familiar with the freezing temperature and snow storms of the East and wanted to wow eastern visitors to Pasadena with an event that would showcase the region’s year-round temperate climate and to celebrate in some poetic way the ripening of oranges in this Mediterranean-like paradise during the winter season. And what better way to do this than to have a parade of carriages and horses festooned with roses and other flowers.
The idea was well received, and the Valley Hunt Club quickly appointed a committee to plan the first New Year’s Day event to be held January 1, 1890. One of the highlights of the festival was the program of games, which included foot races, pony and burro races, tug-of-war matches, and lancing rings from a galloping garland-clad horse (a game known as the “tourney of rings”). The festival was originally coined “The Battle of Roses” for its competitive games but it was later given the name we have today from the tourney of rings competition. For all the fun the games provided, it was the parade of horses and carriages decorated with flowers that were the main attraction. In the years following, marching bands and equestrian units were added and the carriages were soon replaced with motorized floats that were bigger and more elaborate. From the outset, the Tournament of Roses has grown in participants and spectators alike. What began as a local festival to bring in Easterners has since become an international event that draws thousands of people from all over the world to Pasadena.
The Pasadena Public Library has a variety of Tournament of Roses materials in its general and special collections that include books, periodicals, news clippings, photos, and a very extensive collection of Rose Parade programs and pictorials. Here are some resources that you can access online, check out, or view in the Centennial Room at the Central Library (currently closed due to the pandemic).
Pasadena Digital History Collaboration – See photos of the Tournament of Roses from various years. Find photos of Rose Queens, Grand Marshals, floats, marching bands, and much more.
Rose Parade programs and pictorials
The Tournament of Roses programs and pictorials, extant copies of which date back to 1897 and published by the Tournament of Roses Association and local news publishers, are an an important piece of Rose Parade history. They contain photos and facts about the parade for the given year as well as advertisements and interesting stories about people, places, and events in Pasadena and the surrounding region. We have many of the early programs and pictorials digitized and you can view them in our digital collection.
Here is a selection of books about the Tournament of Roses and the Rose Bowl Games at the Pasadena Public Library.
- Tournament of Roses: The First 100 Years, 1989. Hendrickson, Joe.
- Tournament of Roses: A One Hundred Year Celebration, 1988. Hamlin, Rick.
- The Tournament of Roses: A Pictorial History, 1971. Hendrickson, Joe.
- The Pasadena Tournament of Roses: An American Tradition, n.d.
- Tournament of Roses, 1890-1967, 1968. Tournament of Roses Association.
- History of the Tournament of Roses, n.d.
- History of Tournament of Roses, 1954.
- The Official Tournament of Roses Spectacular, 1984.
- Pasadena Tournament of Roses, 1963.
- More than a Parade: The Spirit and passion behind the Pasadena Tournament of Roses, 2007. Riffey, Michael K.
- A Rose Queen is Forever: The Story of Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses and Its Queens, 1989. Main, Margaret Huntley.
- Pasadena: A New Year’s Day, 1890, 1997. Di Donato, Louis A.
- America’s New Year’s Celebration: The Rose Parade & Rose Bowl Game, 2008. Eaves, Caryn, ed.
- Hope Blooms: Organ Donation, the Rose Parade, and our Journey to Save Lives, 2018. Stewart, Bryan.