Chevy bowtie emblem turns 100

The bowtie symbol began to accompany Chevrolet ads in newspapers in 1913

Published: July 21, 2013, 12:00 PM
Updated: April 29, 2018, 3:07 PM

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Chevrolet celebrated its 100th anniversary a couple years ago, having been founded by William C. " Billy" Durant and race-car driver, Louis Chevrolet, in 1911.

But the first Chevrolet cars didn't wear the iconic bowtie emblem that has become among the world's most identifiable product logos. It didn't appear until 1913, after Chevrolet had left the company that bore his name and Durant was in full charge.

The bowtie symbol began to accompany Chevrolet ads in newspapers in 1913, appearing first in the October 2 edition of The Washington Post. It was first used on actual cars on the 1914 model-year Chevrolet H-2 Royal Mail and H-4 Baby Grand.

More than 215-million vehicles and 100 years later it is still the identifying symbol of

the Chevrolet brand, but its exact origin remains uncertain.

Popular lore suggests that Durant was inspired by the wallpaper design in a Paris hotel room but other accounts cite a newspaper advertisement that he saw while vacationing in Hot Springs, Virginia.

Durant’s widow and daughter have offered conflicting explanations.

According to Margery Durant, in her 1929 book My Father, Billy 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.

But in a 1968 interview, Durant’s widow, Catherine, told a different tale. It was she who said the bowtie design originated from a Hot Springs vacation the couple took in 1912.

While reading a newspaper in their hotel room, she recounted, Durant remarked on a design he saw: "I think this would be a very good emblem for the Chevrolet." Unfortunately, Mrs. Durant never clarified whether or not that design was in fact the bowtie symbol.

Based on her recollection, Ken Kaufmann, an automotive historian and editor of The Chevrolet Review, undertook a search of newspaper records to flesh it out.

He found an advertisement for the Southern Compressed Coal Company, promoting a fuel product called "Coalettes," in a November 12, 1911 edition of the Atlanta newspaper, The Constitution. The Coalettes logo featured a slanted bowtie form, similar in shape to what would become the Chevrolet icon.

The date of the paper Kaufmann found was just nine days after the incorporation of the Chevrolet Motor Co. and months before the vacation Mrs. Durant recalled. Is it possible that Billy saw a similar ad at that time?

Perhaps. Whatever the initial inspiration, although it has undergone some evolutionary changes over the decades, the Chevrolet bowtie is still with us.