The streakers of 1974 were hardly the first American students to run through public spaces with no clothes on. Impromptu nudism on U.S. college campuses dates back at least to the 19th century, when Robert E. Lee, as president of Washington College (later Washington and Lee), was said to have given his blessing to naked runs as a rite of passage.
The first streakers of 1974 appeared at Florida State University in January, followed by imitators in Texas, Washington state, and Maryland. The national press began to notice in early February. Then, in the first week of March, streakers seemed to be everywhere, with dozens of episodes reported every day, across the country.
But that was the week of U-M’s spring break, so Michigan students missed the crest of that wave. By the time students returned to Ann Arbor, the spontaneous solo streaker was all but passé. Now you had to do something different, and Michigan’s answer was the mass streak.
Casting spontaneity to the wind, organizers announced plans for competing events on Tuesday, March 12, the second day back from break. One outing was promoted as the “First Annual Ann Arbor Streak-In” (which an organizer insisted was the “official” event); it was to begin at 1 p.m. at Eden Foods on Maynard Street and race through the Nickels Arcade to the Diag. The other—the “First Annual Lucky Streak”—was to start on the Diag at 10 p.m., with a course to South and West Quads and back.
A crowd of a thousand or more gathered for the lunchtime event, but only five streakers—three men and two women—showed up, and two dropped out before reaching the Diag.
The cloak of night brought out far greater numbers at 10 p.m., but the streak nearly stalled in the massive crowd of onlookers.
At 10 p.m., some 70 streakers of both sexes shed their clothes at the center of the Diag and prepared to run. But so many people had come out to watch—The Michigan Daily estimated the number at 10,000—that the streakers were reduced to standing around in the cold and urging more students to join them. Finally they broke away, sprinted through the Undergraduate Library, and “inspired a rash of disunified streaks in all directions,” according to the Daily reporter.
It was a pretty big streak, but no match for the University of Colorado, which claimed a mass streak of 1,200.
Elsewhere, innovations continued all that month and into April—streakers on bicycles and roller skates; streakers in wheelchairs; skydiving streakers. At Michigan State, a naked form distracted a class on criminal sexual deviation. “Reverse streakers” raced through a Florida nudist colony in heavy clothing.
At any rate, there was no second annual streak unless one considers the Naked Mile event held in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Source: James Tobin, “The streak-in of ’74“, Michigan Daily, March 19, 2013.