It’s arguably one of the most recognized automotive logos in the world, yet the actual origins of Chevrolet‘s infamous ‘Bowtie’ remain shrouded in mystery.
For many years, the official line was that General Motors founder, William C. Durant discovered it in a wall paper pattern, located in a Hotel in Paris in 1908, the same year GM was created. Said account is believed to have come from Durant himself and was included in the official book “50 Years of Chevrolet,” published in 1961.
However, other accounts have emerged that cast skepticism on this tale. What makes it even more interesting is that two of them come from the Durant family.
The first of them, concerns Bill’s daughter, Margery, who published a book back in 1929 called “My Father.” In it, she describes that the famous logo came about during dinner table sketches, something her dad frequently did. “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 noted.
The second comes much later, from a 1973 interview with Durant’s widow, Catherine, who claimed that the logo originated while Durant and his wife were vacationing in Hot Springs, Virginia in 1912.
While reading a newspaper in their hotel room, Durant saw the design and remarked “I think this would be a very good emblem for the Chevrolet.” However, his wife wasn’t able to actually clarify what the logo actually was or how it was used.
However it was this tidbit of information that sent Ken Kaufmann, editor of the Chevrolet Review on a quest to find the truth behind the statement. Kaufmann discovered a November 12, 1911 (nine days after Chevrolet was incorporated) edition of The Constitution newspaper, based in Atlanta which contained an ad for ‘Coalettes’ a refined product for fires, produced by the Southern Compressed Coal Company. The Coalettes logo was a slanted bowtie, similar to the eventual Chevrolet logo.
Yet another popular myth states that the logo was a stylized version of the Swiss flag, Louis Chevrolet, the race driver who the company was named after, was born in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Canton of Neuchâtel, a French speaking part of Switzerland in 1878.
However, given that an October 1913 edition of the Washington Post is one of the earliest known examples of the ‘Bowtie’ Chevy emblem being advertised where it says ‘Look for this Nameplate’, the ‘Coalettes’ scenario is quite possibly the most plausible.
However, due to the passing of time, it’s unlikely we’ll ever discover the logo’s true origins. Nonetheless it has become an integral part of American (and to a certain extent global) consumer culture; more than 4.25 million Chevrolet cars and light trucks were sold around the world last year.