As one of the most well-known emblems in the automotive industry, the Chevy bowtie remains a symbol of the American brand’s long and storied history – having changed little since its introduction in 1913. Although one version of its origin story has been relayed most by fans and media alike, Chevy says that there are yet other explanations for how the bowtie came to be.
The most well-known origin comes from The Chevrolet Story, a piece of company-issued biographical literature released in 1961 to commemorate Chevy’s 50th anniversary. The story goes that Chevy co-founder William “Billy” Durant, as an avid globe-trekker traveling the world in 1908, took notice of a design on the wallpaper of a Parisian hotel that he saw as the perfect emblem to represent the Chevy brand. According to the work, Durant then tore the design from the wall to take home and show his colleagues.
To many, this romanticized account is believable, and adds that element of spontaneity to the American brand’s origin story. However, Chevy has printed two other versions of the story over the years, both of which contradict the one most often repeated today. What lends some amount of credibility to these conflicting accounts is that they come from within the Durant family.
Durant’s daughter, Margery, wrote and published a book about her father in 1929. Within its pages, she describes how Durant would often doodle potential designs for the logo at the dinner table. She believed that among those designs was the famous bowtie emblem that we know today.
More than 50 years later, another version of the bowtie legend emerged, this time straight from a 13-year-old interview with Durant’s widow, Catherine. This one places the couple in Hot Springs, Va., where they vacationed in 1912. Reading a newspaper in their hotel room, Durant came across a design that caught his attention. According to this version of the story, when Durant saw the design, he said, “I think this would be a very good emblem for the Chevrolet.” Though the story describes both the discovery of a symbol as well as Durant’s enthusiasm over it as a possible logo for the Chevy brand, Mrs. Durant doesn’t go into detail about what the design in the newspaper looked like in the interview.
This tale sparked the investigative spirit of one Ken Kaufmann, historian and editor of The Chevrolet Review. Kaufmann embarked on a quest to uncover the truth behind Mrs. Durant’s story, and was determined to find out the real origin of the bowtie motif. In his research, he discovered an advertisement published in a November 1911 issue of The Constitution, one of Atlanta, Ga.’s earliest newspapers. The ad was for a coal company, and featured a slanted, cross-like design as its logo. Kaufmann suggests that Durant might have seen the same ad printed in the newspaper he read in 1912.
Yet another explanation for the bowtie’s origin gives credit to Chevrolet’s other cofounder, and the brand’s namesake, Louis Chevrolet. Born in Switzerland to French parents Christmas Day 1878, Chevrolet may have been inspired by the Swiss flag when he thought up the logo, according to one theory. Whatever the truth behind its origins may be, the bowtie logo’s earliest known appearance can be seen in the October 2, 1913 edition of The Washington Post.
Chevy says that the colors and styling of the logo have changed over the years, but the bowtie’s overall shape remains intact. Though several stories exist that explain how the bowtie came to be, the logo’s power as a symbol is undeniable to many Chevy fans – who are probably happy enough knowing that the emblem isn’t likely to change anytime soon.