Humans have always communicated in visuals, from ancient cave drawings to marking a nation’s coins with symbols of that country. As commerce began, signs were used by businesses and guilds to identify them.
One of the earliest examples of corporate branding emerged as the result of the trade between the East and the West: The interlocking VOC logo of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Companies, or Dutch East India Company. The company adorned its ships, flags, maps, and cannons with its logo, turning it into a potent symbol of colonial power and domination of East-West trading routes for nearly 190 years. Shell’s logo is one of the oldest corporate logos in the world.
Corporate logos really began to take off in the 19th century, along with the rapid ascent of industrialism, consumerism, and global trade. Companies that still use logos created in the late 1800s include Twinings Tea, Prudential, Levi Strauss & Co., and Heinz. Other logos, like the ones for Shell Oil and Ford Motor Company date back to the early years of their respective industries.
Today, company logos are everywhere, some with interesting features or colorful histories. The FedEx logo, for example, features an arrow that is cleverly hidden in plain sight, meant to symbolize the delivery company’s logistics speed and accuracy.
Other logos are, well, snooze-worthy. One can easily wonder the reasoning behind a company formed as a merger between automakers Fiat and Chrysler creating a mind-numbingly boring FCA logo, while at the same time retiring Chrysler’s iconic Pentastar logo.
The following are 20 well-known corporate logos and their meanings and back stories. These are all well-known major corporate brands in the United States, although not all are American. Many the companies behind these brands are among the largest employers in the United States.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the current version of some of the most recognizable logos of the country’s largest companies. Researching logo histories — how they were conceived and evolved over the years — it became clear that many iconic American brand symbols bear an explanation that would surprise many consumers. These are some of the most interesting stories behind America’s corporate logos.