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A blue 1974 Chevrolet Impala is showing a close up of the chevy emblem at a Chevy dealership.

The Disputed History of Chevy’s Iconic Bow Tie Emblem

It’s one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. It stands right alongside the Lochness Monster, Bigfoot, who shot JFK, and what happened to the Russian princess Anastasia. What is it? It’s the history behind how Chevy got its iconic bow tie emblem. The bow tie stands proudly over every Chevy dealership, and it is worn stylishly by every car, truck, and SUV Chevy makes, but no one is quite sure just where it came from.

Alright, maybe not quite as many people spend their days contemplating the bow tie as they do wondering about Nessy or whether the Vikings landed in America before Columbus. Still, with Chevy being one of the most recognized car brands in the world and the bow tie being one of the best-known emblems in any industry, there are plenty of people who have pondered how it came about. For vehicles like the Camaro and Corvette it means speed; for the Suburban and Silverado, it communicates power; finally, for the Bolt EV, it stands for responsible efficiency. Whatever it means to you, here is a closer look at how Chevy got the bow tie emblem.

The Bow Tie Emblem Origin Story Part 1

As you will soon see, there is no one agreed-upon version of how the bow tie came about. Just as theories of UFOs and who built the pyramids abound, there are at least four different stories for how the bow tie came to represent one of the leading car brands in the world. To understand the first story, you have to go back to the early 1900s, when the auto industry was in its infancy. It should be noted that, according to Chevrolet co-founder William C. Durant, this is the official story of how he adopted the bow tie emblem as the company’s official moniker – something that occurred in 1913.

As the story goes, Durant was inspired not by the waiters at a cocktail party or even by a quirky professor with a penchant for bow ties, but by wallpaper. In 1961, to honor the company’s 50th anniversary, the emblem’s story was told and described how Durant, who was traveling the world in 1908, was taken with the wallpaper in his hotel room in Paris. The story continues by saying that Durant immediately recognized its potential to be a nice nameplate for a car and even went so far as to rip some of the paper off before he left. After showing it to friends, he even declared his intentions of using it for a car someday.

While the story certainly has some authority since it is in the official book and was told by Durant himself, it is not a particularly satisfactory answer. Could there really have been a five-year gap between finding the wallpaper and introducing it as the emblem in 1913? And does one of America’s most popular car brands really have gotten its iconic emblem from wallpaper of all things?

An image is showing the progression of the Chevrolet bowtie emblem from 1913 to 2013

The Bow Tie Emblem Origin Story Part 2

The other thing that makes some people question the first story is the fact that there is a second. Interestingly, the second story also involves Durant and comes from a book his daughter wrote about her father that was published in 1929. According to the story in the book, Durant’s daughter didn’t credit her father’s infatuation with Parisian wallpaper, but rather his habit of doodling. She claims that Durant would often doodle during dinner and that one night, between courses, her father came up with the iconic bow tie emblem.

Of course, these two stories aren’t mutually exclusive. It is possible that Durant was influenced by the wallpaper and was reworking it later at the dinner table. His daughter might not have known about her father’s source of inspiration, and given that the book was written sixteen years after the bow tie was officially adopted as the emblem of Chevrolet, there could be holes in her memory. After all, do you remember what you had for dinner sixteen years ago?

The Bow Tie Emblem Origin Story Part 3

The third story has an even longer lag time between when it happened, when it was told, and when it was reported. In 1986 Chevrolet Pro Management Magazine reported on a thirteen-year-old interview with Duran’t widow that she told about a trip the couple took in 1912 (a very dubious beginning to an origin story for sure). According to Durant’s wife’s memory, the couple was vacationing in Virginia when Durant commented on a logo he thought would work well for Chevy. While she didn’t go into more detail, further research revealed that in a paper they likely could have seen on their trip, there was a bow tie emblem that was used in an advertisement from a company in Atlanta.

The timing of this story is interesting, too because seeing the ad in 1912 would have been right before Chevrolet was introduced in 1913. While those dates do coincide nicely, the fact that the story wasn’t told until decades later does put a damper on its authenticity. And, like the dinner doodling story before it, the advertisement story doesn’t necessarily disqualify the wallpaper theory.

A black and white photo of 1947 Chevrolet Fleetmaster is showing a close up of the chevy emblem.

The Bow Tie Emblem Origin Story Part 4

There is, of course, a fourth and final theory that is actually quite simple. Louis Chevrolet, the company’s namesake, was born in Switzerland in 1878. As we all know, the Swiss flag has a large cross on it. If you tilt the cross ever so slightly, you are left with the Chevy bow tie emblem.

Is it possible that the bow tie came about this way? Maybe. It may seem somewhat surprising that Louis Chevrolet or anyone else wouldn’t dispute the three Durant stories if the beginnings of the bow tie emblem were of a humbler origin. However, Louis Chevrolet left the Chevrolet company in 1915 after only two years, so perhaps the Durant stories were a way to distance the company from its

Could it Be All of the Above?

As noted above, none of the first three stories are really mutually exclusive. What if Durant first saw the emblem in a hotel in Paris and the seed was planted? What if his doodling of that initial inspiration was recorded by his daughter and then solidified in his own mind when he saw the ad in Virginia. Maybe it was even the straw that broke the camel’s back and made him decide to introduce it shortly thereafter.

And what about Louis Chevrolet? Maybe Durant convinced him it was the perfect emblem, telling him it was just like the flag of his native Switzerland. Of course, this could be possible, but without Chevrolet, or Durant, or his family around to verify these theories, the world will probably never know for sure. We will be forced to live with the mystery of how the Chevy bow tie emblem came to be.

It is, however, fun to speculate and wonder if any or all of these stories have any merit to them. But does it really matter? Sure the bow tie emblem is great, but what is even better is just how amazing Chevy’s cars, trucks, and SUVs are. You could stick just about anything on any one of them, and it wouldn’t really matter.

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