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History of the Car Emblem

Updated on February 25, 2016

And So it Begins

Many people would be surprised if they were to learn what the symbols and other designs on car logos actually represent—with some being more colorful than others.

Here, we will briefly cover the history of how car emblems emerged in the United States.

Technically speaking, car emblems emerged when cars, themselves, did. As far back as the 1890's, car branding was important, but logos, per se, weren't exactly what they are today; and branding didn't hold the importance that it does, now. So let's fast forward to 1901 where we find one of the first-massed produced cars in the history of mankind – the Oldsmobile “Curved Dash” model. This turn-of-the-century beaut displayed an ornate emblem – not on its front, but on its side panels.

As car manufacturing rushed full-steam ahead, most car manufacturers felt an automobile's front, mesh grill constituted the car's 'face' and should be the select location for a car's trademark; but the emblem's change of position didn't take place until after the First World War. During the start of the 20th Century, into the Roaring Twenties and just before WWI, emblems did not present themselves as easily-recognizable and distinct symbols – unlike the car emblems of today. Back in the time, they took on more of ornate script-writing with an Art Nouveau flair; and most emblems were simply brass stampings.

The Real Emblem is Born

As mentioned, it was after WWI that car manufacturers collectively felt the metal cowling surrounding the radiator would be the ideal location for actual emblem-like badges. Once the idea of repositioning the badges and actually using emblem-type decorations sunk in as the collective “Ah-Hah” moment, creative juices began to flow! Initially, brass continued to be used as the decorative material, but it was soon followed by intricately-colored enamel!

Leave it to classy Rolls-Royce to be the pioneer that unveiled an initial design of an impressively-elegant emblem, which made its grand appearance in 1906. Due to the beauty, quality and caliber of the emblem it produced and attached to its cars, it only helped Rolls Royce maintain its coveted position as one of the best-made cars, anywhere.

The 1900's Advanced and So Did Emblems

By the 1930's, car emblems were becoming a 'rock star' phenomenon, of sorts, in the car industry as well as among consumers; and one of the big elements to incorporate into a car emblem, at the time, were wings. Why? Wings were meant to reflect speed which, in itself, represented prowess and charisma.

It was in the 1940's and '50's that car designers in Detroit began toying with the idea that every single style of car under the same heading such as “Ford”, for example, would have its own emblem. This was intended to highlight each car design's persona. One case-in-point involved the 1953 Corvette and the 1954 Thunderbird whose emblems packed a psychological and social punch that oozed of sexiness, desire and mystique. These two emblems, in particular, became uniquely revered and iconic; and were attributed as the direct cause of the development of one-of-kind insignias for each product line with all car manufacturers.

Some car manufacturers were slower than others to jump on the emblem-branding band-wagon, but by the 1960's and 1970's, emblem branding was in full swing for all car manufacturers. The identity of all cars, at that point, were to become inseparable.

There have been 7,000 car emblems worldwide since the first car came off the 'production line' in 1885! Some emblems fell by the wayside and some emerged victorious as iconic 'gods', almost. Initial emblem modesty died many decades ago; and their 21st Century counterparts are bigger and bolder than ever before. They have been, and continue to be, intriguing, beautiful and even scandalous!


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