An interesting combination of classic style and graphical design genius can be found in the early modern-day logos of the North American railways. Each design conveys a unique look and feel of the place it belongs to, drawing upon local history, architecture and even mythology to advertise the railways as the preferred mode of transport in the late-nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries.
Railway logos of this era were designed by artists primarily as an enticement to American and foreign travellers to utilize the railways that connected vast swathes of the country. More convincingly, logos were meant to encapsulate the then state-of-the-art design of the modern train. Bold, colourful lines and lettering adorned many of the Western Pacific railway logos like that of the Santa Fe, meant to portray the power and capabilities of streamlined trains used by such companies. Other logos like that of the Great Northern, featuring mountain goats, spoke to the historic role the railway had in founding the Glacier National Park.
More interestingly, designs used for logos extended both from and to the other styles and visual cues used on trains and railway stations. These mimicked the history and architecture of key stations around the country. An example of this is can be found in the Art Deco styling of several ‘Union Stations’ around the country, from Cincinnati to Washington, DC. This integrated design adorned everything from “the locomotives and rolling stock to architecture, advertisements and timetables – designed to project an image of speed, efficiency, adventure and the American dream”.
There are a couple of key lessons I took away from this early, yet modern style of logo design. A bold design that succinctly conveys the message and history of a brand, for instance, translates into a trademark that can be “plastered everywhere” to aid brand awareness and recall. Secondly, an integrated style used in design and communications can contribute to a brand’s ‘wow-factor’. For me, dipping into this exploration of railway history was an interesting look into the intersection of visual design, advertisement and technology of a bygone era.
A history of American railroad graphics; https://www.iconeye.com/design/logomotive-history-american-railroad-graphics
Logomotive – Railroad Graphics and the American Dream; (Ian Logan & Jonathan Glancey); Sheldrake Press (Oct. 2020)