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The Evolution of Corporate Logos

December 19, 2011


Probably few remember the original Apple logo, which featured Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree with the inscription ‘“Newton … A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought … Alone.” Thankfully, within a year, Jobs was introduced to Rob Janoff, a young designer based in Palo Alto, California who was assigned to help market the clunky Apple II, a far cry from today’s sleek MacBook. “For inspiration, the first thing I did was go to the supermarket, buy a bag of apples and slice them up,” recalled Janoff in an interview with Sync Magazine. “I just stared at the wedges for hours.” Eventually, Janoff created the polychromatic Apple logo which survived until 1998.


Founded in 1909, British Petroleum’s (BP) original logo was designed by an amateur who submitted his emblem in a company-wide competition. “A Mr. AR Saunders from the purchasing department won an employee competition in 1920 to design the first BP mark, a boxy ‘B’ and ‘P’ with wings on their edges, set into the outline of a shield,” the company notes on its site. BP, which is now officially incorporated as BP p.l.c., updated its logo in 2000, incorporating green and yellow, perhaps as a means to associate a “green” mentality with the company. Lauded by marketing gurus at first, the logo was later scrutinized (and lampooned) in 2010, when BP became responsible for perhaps the world’s worst oil spill.


Perhaps one of America’s most recognizable brands, the Ford logo has retained its familiar oval shape since the company’s founding during the turn of the 20th century. In 1909, the first logo with the distinctive lettering was designed by C.H. Wills, an engineer and draftsman who was with the company since its incorporation. Though Wills passed away in 1940, the oval emblem he created lives on. In a press statement announcing the company’s most recent logo update in 2003, Jan Valentic, Ford’s vice president of global marketing noted that “The oval is a memorable visual symbol that conjures up great images of the storied experiences people have had with their Ford vehicles…Ford, the oval, is a thread in the fabric of our culture.”


Tracing IBM’s logo back to its origins brings us back to 1889, when the International Time Recording business was founded. In 1911, ITR merged with the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company — the forerunner of IBM. About a decade later, the tongue-twisting Computing-Tabulating-Recording Company simplified its name to the International Business Machines Corporation. “The ornate, rococo letters that formed the “CTR” logo were replaced by the words “Business Machines” in more contemporary sans-sarif type, and in a form intended to suggest a globe, girdled by the word “International,” according to the company’s site. The company’s current logo was design by Paul Rand in 1972, and “horizontal stripes now replaced the solid letters to suggest ‘speed and dynamism.’”


Shell, one of the world’s oldest oil companies, traces its humble roots back to a shopkeeper named Marcus Samuel who sold antiques and decorative shells and wanted to expand his business. After a merger in 1907, the Royal Dutch Shell Group was formed with the shell, or “pecten,” as its official emblem. According to Shell, it’s not exactly certain why or how the logo came to be. One explanation comes from the original business of selling shells as decorations; however, some within the company disagree. Some evidence points to an investor named “Mr. Graham” whose Spanish family coat of arms bore a shell emblem.


In 1907, 19-year-old Jim Casey borrowed $100 from a friend to start the American Messenger Company, which, using the help of his two brothers, made deliveries on foot and by bicycle. Fast-forward ten years, when Casey merged his company with a local competitor, and created its first logo, a shield with an eagle carrying a package. Paul Rand, famous for designing some of America’s most notable corporate logos including IBM, UPS, Enron, Westinghouse, and ABC, designed UPS’s third logo in 1961. In 2003, UPS, along with marketing consultancy FutureBrand, spent two years designing the most recent logo.


Walmart first opened its doors in 1962. Founded in Arkansas (where its headquarters remain today), Walmart began to experience significant growth in the 1970’s, when the first Walmart distribution center was opened. Walmart’s logo has gone through several iterations since the company’s founding. Perhaps the logo with the most significant departure was the “Discount City” emblem, which was only used in print advertising, on company uniforms, as well as in-store signage.


From → Branding

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