Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

Posted on by +  

"Iconic" is a word that is thrown around far too often in the automotive world, but after 100 years and dozens of colors and text styles, the lasting importance and brand symbol of the Chevy bowtie emblem is a sure thing.

As the bowtie evolved over the ten decades, its transformations were barely noticeable versus the complete revolution in transport they adorned - from the first Chevy ’Classic Six’ model to today’s industrial heavy-hitter with more than 50 global model lines.

General Motors’ Chevrolet brand was launched with a script logo with the words Chevrolet written in stylized cursive.

Legibility and pronunciation of this French name were a real problem versus monosyllabic "Fords " across the street.

Soon, a baby blue bowtie logo appeared along with Chevrolet written in all caps in 1913, but the exact origins of this bowtie are unknown.

What we do know is that the Chevy bowtie instantly means cars.

Along with Ford , Coca Cola and General Electric, the emblem of the Chevrolet lineup is a globally-recognized symbol of freedom, prestige and mobility.

Logo changes are often fraught with peril for the companies who fail to understand the symbol’s importance to their most loyal consumers. Just a brief look back shows disastrous results followed when Gap Inc. tried to remodel their emblem, or the huge drop in real-life sales following Tropicana’s disastrous package redesign.

With the new 2014 Cadillac logo (without the wreath!) in place on the Elmiraj Concept , here’s a look back at the evolution of the Chevrolet bowtie over the Chevrolet bowtie over the last hundred years.

Click past the jump for the full Chevy’s BowTie Emblem Turns 100, Reflects On Badge’s Evolution article - to find out the most likely source of the bowtie emblem.

Updated 10/14/2013: This article has been updated with Chevy’s latest skinny emblem, which the original article did not highlight as the new bowtie in use since 2010.

The Early Years

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

At the beginning, Chevy was an upstart brand in a crowded market. Highly regionalized, small car manufacturers were cropping up all over the Midwest and Europe between around 1910. A massive consolidation was needed, along with national distribution and marketing.

Product marketing whiz William C. Durant was the man for the daunting task of creating unique brands to appeal at different price points. One horseless carriage design could appeal to distinct individual niches if it carried a different name, style and brand image.

Cadillac was born to epitomize the top of Durant’s famous ’ladder of success’ brand hierarchy. Buick was brought in the fold, as well as Oakland/Pontiac Pontiac - but Chevrolet was always the golden child.

Rumors about the shape of the Chevy bowtie really picked up steam in this era with Durant ’s wife and daughter both providing some clues as to its origin after his death.

The most credible is a report about a repeating gilded wallpaper pattern in the old-world Paris hotel preferred by Durant when visiting the city of light. Combined with the ’Chevron’ inspired sound, Chevrolet may have been born over a continental breakfast, reading Le Figaro and enjoying spiced tobacco.

The Boom Times

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

After the close of WWII, Chevy was truly sitting on a mint of cash earned via government tank and aircraft construction deals. The factories were some of the first to be converted back to civilian car production, but the engineers and stylists really emerged as leading visionaries in this period.

While many car companies resumed production of depressing, 1930s-era vehicles - Chevrolet paused and solidified its brand positioning as affordable and fashion-forward transport. No more lean times - this was the 1950s and Chevrolet was king.

The badges of this area bring a stylized shell not dissimilar to a crown for the 1955 Bel Air, but deep inside the checker pattern was the trusty old bowtie.

Delaying The Bust

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

As quality went south and buyers looked to imports for reliability and fuel economy, Chevrolet needed to ditch its staid 1950s heyday - and once again the bowtie chose the future as potential innovation inspiration. Vivid bold purples, clear glass hood-mounted 3D bowties, and many others fanned out across the 1970s and 1980s lineups.

The new Chevrolet image was cemented with the firm’s ultra-modern 1980s line, with a new Camaro, Corvette, Cavalier and S-10 truck - Chevy was on a roll. Lasting ad campaigns filled the airwaves with campfire scenes and Bob Seger’s "Like A Rock."

It worked, but this era also had another permanent GM logo to compete with: the metal seatbelt anchors in all GM models got so hot in the sun that scalding a GM logo in a child’s hand was easy - almost like branding a bull, these kids would be GM avoid-ers for life.

Just a knee-jerk preservation reaction when a logo burns your skin off!

Simple But Modern Glitz

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

Chevy has liberally interpreted its badging and name fonts over the last hundred years, which is good and probably the only way this iconic emblem would have survived so many management and brand shake-ups.

The latest design is a deep crest with 3D beveled edges and a tilted wing shape for some of the pointier Chevy nose looks - like the Camaro.

A shimmery gold leaf paint - previously - was deep under a clear glaze for the top part of the badge. For the new emblem, the internal gold surface is highlight detailed, and very interesting to touch. Good job on this one from up close, Chevy teams!

This color combination is as close to universally appealing as it gets - there are few other colored brand logo’s that can look as good on a black car as a green or red or white one.

Recent rumblings suggest Chevy is trying to trim the number of unique bowtie sizes and designs across its lineup - down to maybe five total shape options from today’s 15-plus.

This is a waste of effort - buyers only see one bowtie in their mind, no matter the minute shape and angle details of the Silverado versus Malibu. In the collective mind, the bowtie grille is the brain’s hard-wired shortcut to mean Chevrolet.

The Full Chevrolet Bowtie Emblem Evolution Chart

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

The Most Likely "Real" Origin Of the Chevrolet Bowtie Emblem

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

A print ad for “Coalettes”, an early charcoal mini brick, ran in a few newspapers of the time - and the similarities with the soon-launched Chevrolet bowtie are too much to ignore.

As we look forward to the next hundred years, the personal meaning of the Chevy bowtie among all people will write additional chapters in the bowtie history.

Every new Chevy to wear the badge is another new day for the iconic bowtie badge - and everything it means to the millions who trust the brand to keep them safe and secure on the roads.

Press Release

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

Chevrolet’s Iconic Bowtie Celebrates 100th Anniversary

  • Origin still uncertain, but 215 million cars and trucks have worn the badge since 1913

DETROIT – Chevrolet’s globally recognized bowtie celebrates its 100th anniversary this year with 25 product launches helping the symbol find new roads around the world despite an origin that is still uncertain.

In 1913, Chevrolet co-founder William C. Durant introduced the signature Chevy bowtie on the 1914 Chevrolet H-2 Royal Mail and the H-4 Baby Grand, centered at the front of both models.

Sixty million Chevrolets are on the roads worldwide today and the bowtie has adorned 215 million Chevrolets over the last century. A Chevrolet car, crossover or truck is sold every 6.39 seconds in one of 140 countries, and the brand set a sales record of 2.5 million in the first six months of the year. The bowtie’s centennial is marked by new entries, such as the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel compact sedan in the U.S. and the Trax small SUV in 40 international markets.

“The Chevrolet bowtie is recognized around the world and has become synonymous with American ingenuity,” said Chevrolet Chief Marketing Officer Tim Mahoney. “Whether you’re pulling thousands of pounds through rocky terrain in a Silverado pickup or commuting in a Spark EV, Chevrolet’s bowtie will always be at the very front of your travels.”

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

While the bowtie has been present for 100 years, the details surrounding its origin are still uncertain. Stories range from Durant being inspired by the wallpaper design in a Parisian hotel to a newspaper advertisement he saw while vacationing in Hot Springs, Va. Durant’s widow and daughter have offered alternative explanations.

According to Margery Durant, in her 1929 book My Father, Durant sometimes doodled nameplate designs on pieces of paper at the dinner table. "I think it was between the soup and the fried chicken one night that he sketched out the design that is used on the Chevrolet car to this day," she wrote.

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

But in a 1968 interview, Durant’s widow, Catherine, said the bowtie design originated from a Hot Springs vacation in 1912. While reading a newspaper in their hotel room, Durant spotted a design and exclaimed, “I think this would be a very good emblem for the Chevrolet.” Unfortunately, Mrs. Durant never clarified what the motif was or how it was used.

But that nugget of information inspired Ken Kaufmann, historian and editor of The Chevrolet Review, to search out its validity. In a Nov. 12, 1911 edition of The Constitution newspaper, published in Atlanta, an advertisement appeared from by the Southern Compressed Coal Company for “Coalettes,” a refined fuel product for fires. The Coalettes logo, as published in the ad, had a slanted bowtie form, very similar to the shape that would soon become the Chevrolet icon.

Did Durant and his wife see the same ad – or one similar – the following year a few states to the north? The date of the paper Kaufmann found was just nine days after the incorporation of the Chevrolet Motor Co. The first use of the bowtie by Chevrolet appeared in the Oct. 2, 1913 edition of The Washington Post with the words “Look for this nameplate” above the symbol.

About Chevrolet

Origin of the Chevrolet Bowtie Badge Revealed After 100 Years

Founded in 1911 in Detroit, Chevrolet is now one of the world’s largest car brands, doing business in more than 140 countries and selling more than 4.5 million cars and trucks a year. Chevrolet provides customers with fuel-efficient vehicles that feature spirited performance, expressive design, and high quality. More information on Chevrolet models can be found at www.chevrolet.com.


What is your take?

Back to top