Chevy’s iconic bowtie emblem is considered as American as apple pie. The image – in all of its various iterations – has and continues to be linked to the vehicles that have kept Americans going for generations. October 2, we celebrated the anniversary of that legendary symbol and the legacy it upholds.
The Chevy bowtie made its first public appearance in the Washington Post on October 2, 1913, with the words “Look for this nameplate” written above the logo. It debuted on American roadways with the introduction of the 1914 H-2 Royal Mail, and H-4 Baby Grand.
Much lore surrounds the story of the bowtie’s conception. It is known that the logo was created by Chevy co-founder, William C. Durant, but various accounts lay claim to the basis of his inspiration. According to The Chevrolet Story (1961), an official company publication issued in celebration of Chevrolet’s 50th anniversary…
“It originated in Durant’s imagination when, as a world traveler in 1908, he saw the pattern marching off into infinity as a design on wallpaper in a French hotel. He tore off a piece of the wallpaper and kept it to show friends, with the thought that it would make a good nameplate for a car.”
However, according to Durant’s daughter, the emblem was inspired organically, at the dinner table of all places. In her 1929 book, My Father, she describes how Durant was prone to mid-meal sketching. “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.
In a 1968 interview, Durant’s widow, Catherine, claimed that the idea was born during a 1912 Hot Springs vacation. While reading the morning paper, Durant noticed a design and exclaimed, “I think this would be a very good emblem for the Chevrolet.” Ms. Durant was never able to confirm what it was her husband had seen.
Those comments inspired Ken Kaufmann – historian and editor of The Chevrolet Review – to do a little digging. In a November 12, 1911 edition of The Constitution newspaper he found an advertisement published by the Southern Compressed Coal Company for “Coalettes,” a refined fuel product for fires. Like the Chevrolet logo, Coalettes made use of a slanted cross design. Could this be the advertisement William C. Durant stumbled upon during that fateful vacation?
Others claim that the Chevy bowtie isn’t a bowtie at all, but an homage to Durant’s homeland. It is easy to decipher the resemblance to the Swiss Cross featured prominently upon the nation’s flag.
Regardless of its origins, nearly eleven decades of continuous use suggest that few, if any, American industrial symbols have been so profound. The bowtie continues to populate our roadways – a living reminder of the rich history upon which a new era of transportation is being built.