Yellow Jackets | February 2022
Before the Pittsburgh Penguins, hockey in Pittsburgh started with the Yellow Jackets, a franchise that got its start in 1920 when it joined the United States Amateur Hockey Association, winning the championship, or Fellowes Cup in 1924 & 1925 before the USAHA dissolved.
It was at this point that the Yellow Jackets’ owner, Roy Schooley, sold the team to James Callahan, a lawyer from Lawrenceville. Callahan was granted an NHL expansion team for the 1925-26 season and renamed the franchise the Pirates after the baseball team, keeping the Yellow Jackets’ signature black and gold uniforms, the first to wear the colors that all professional Pittsburgh teams now don. The Pirates ended their Pittsburgh stint in 1930 when they moved to Philadelphia and became the Quakers.
Fast-forward to 1934 and we meet the owner of the popular Harris Theater, John H. Harris, who has put together a new hockey team to play in the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, the final franchise to bear the Yellow Jackets name. During two and a half seasons, the team enjoyed moderate success thanks to talented netminder Frank Brimsek who would go on to win 252 career games in goal, a feat which earned him title of winningest American-born goalie. The record stood until 1994 when goalie Tom Barrasso and the Pens defeated the Winnipeg Jets at Civic Arena. The Yellow Jackets folded for good in 1937.
The final piece to this frozen puzzle comes in early January 1980 when the Pittsburgh Penguins wanted to rebrand and lose their blue and white uniforms to more closely align with the Pittsburgh Pirates who were coming off a 1979 World Series victory. The Boston Bruins initially objected to the Penguins sharing their black and gold color scheme, but because the Pittsburgh Pirates hockey team (formerly the Yellow Jackets) wore the colors before, the precedent stood and the legacy of the Yellow Jackets was newly honored by the Penguins.