From surgical procedures to committee meetings, activities at Mayo Clinic are scheduled around “orange days” and “blue days.”
How and why did those colors come to be?
National labor standards, the home delivery of milk, school spirit, and Mayo’s culture of consensus all played a part.
For much of Mayo Clinic’s early history, the outpatient practice functioned on a six-day calendar. This reflected the largely rural patient base because Saturday was when farm families “came to town.” During this period, surgeons operated every other day with alternating days for consultation. Tracking the schedule for surgical and office time was straightforward.
After World War II, the Monday–Friday workweek became increasingly common. Factors ranging from state and federal worksite regulations to staff expectations helped propel Mayo Clinic’s decision, starting in the summer of 1964, to adopt a five-day workweek.
It then became a challenge to identify which days the surgical staff performed operations and which days they were in the office. After some benchmarking, Mayo Clinic leaders created a calendar with days of the week in alternating colors—familiar to many people at the time because dairy companies used such a calendar to schedule the home delivery of milk.
The question arose—which colors to use for the new calendar?
Suggestions abounded, but a decision was hard to come by. Finally, the matter worked its way up to the Mayo Clinic Board of Governors, which was chaired by L. Emmerson Ward, M.D. With tongue in cheek (and other pressing matters on the agenda), he said to the assembled members: “I have always favored the colors of my alma mater, the University of Illinois. Unless there are objections, I propose orange and blue for the new surgical calendar.”
The motion passed, and the color scheme has been sustained ever since.