Chevrolet’s iconic “bowtie” logo is recognized the world over, but is it American? Since its founding in 1911, Chevrolet has been definitively weaved into the fabric of 20th Century America and beyond, but where the logo came from seems more ambiguous.
General Motors founder William C. Durant claimed he was inspired by the wallpaper in a Parisian hotel. An official company publication for Chevy’s 50th anniversary in 1961 said “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.”
This is all well and good, except members of Durant’s own family have different accounts, both of which are convincing enough to be legitimate, confusing things and furthering the mystery.
In her book My Father, Durant’s own daughter suggests during a meal while doodling designs he came up with the now famous logo. “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 1986 issue of The Chevrolet Pro Management Magazine, the Bowtie origin was recounted by Durant’s widow Catherine. According to her, in 1912 while on vacation in Hot Springs, Virginia, the two were in their hotel room and while reading a newspaper her husband spotted a design and exclaimed, “I think this would be a very good emblem for the Chevrolet.”
To verify her story Ken Kaufman, a historian an editor of The Chevrolet Review searched for and found found an advertisement in the November 12, 1911 edition of The Constitution newspaper that may have been what Durant saw. The ad was by the Southern Compressed Coal Company for “coalettes,” mini coals to fuel a fire. The logo, was a slanted bowtie, very similar to the one that would become the Chevy logo. The date of the paper was just nine days after the incorporation of the Chevrolet Motor Co.
Another possibility has to do with Louis Chevrolet, who had raced for Buick, a company that Durant had owned. Louis Chevrolet was born in Switzerland, and some think the Chevy logo is a stylized version of the cross that appears on the Swiss flag.
The definitive origin of the Chevy bowtie may be yet another mystery, one of countless added to the pantheon of American lore. Though the bowtie has changed in coloring and detail over the years, the essential bowtie shape has remained. Last year Chevrolet sold more than 4.25 million cars in 120 countries.