Many American universities had marching bands prior to the twentieth century, which were typically associated with military ROTC programs. In 1907, breaking from traditional rank and file marching, the first pictorial formation on a football field was the “Block P” created by Paul Spotts Emrick, director of the Purdue All-American Marching Band. Spotts had seen a flock of birds fly in a “V” formation and decided that a band could replicate the action in the form of show formations on a field. The first halftime show at an American football game was performed by the University of Illinois Marching Illini, also in 1907, at a game against the University of Chicago.
Percussion and wind instruments were used on the battlefield since ancient times. The development of the military band from such predecessors was a gradual development of the medieval and early modern period. Until 1749 bandsmen were civilians hired at the expense of the colonel commanding a regiment. Subsequently, they became regular enlisted men who accompanied the unit on active service to provide morale enhancing music on the battlefield. Drummers summoned men from their farms and ranches to muster for duty. In the chaotic environment of the battlefield, musical instruments were the only means of commanding the men to advance, stand or retire. In the mid 19th century each smaller unit had their own fifer and drummer, who sounded the daily routine. When units massed for battle a band of musicians was formed for the whole.
After World War I, the presence and quality of marching bands in the American public school system expanded as military veterans with service band experience began to accept music teaching positions within schools across the country, eventually bringing wind music and marching band into both educational curriculum and school culture. With high school programs on the rise, marching bands started to become competitive organizations, with the first national contest being held in 1923 in Chicago, Illinois. State and national contests became common, often featuring parades and mass-band concerts featuring all participating groups. By 1938, competitive band programs had become numerous and widespread, making a national contest too large to manage and leading to multiple state and regional contests in its place. Today, state contests continue to be the primary form of marching band competition in the United States.