150 Years of Rolling on the Tracks

by Blake Howard    February 26, 2013

I’ve always liked trains and I’ve always liked logos. The railroad is one of the few industries old enough to study the trends and history of its brand marks, which makes it super awesome nerd material for me.

I found this blog article a few weeks back and was fascinated to see 150 years worth of Railroad brand marks, big shout out to Christian Annyas for originally collecting these. I took his collection of logos (dating from 1845- 2000) and put them in a video to see the linear transformation in trends and expressions along the way.

When you watch the video above look for the three main elements of a brand mark:

1. Shape

Shape refers to overall composition. Does the brand mark form a circle? A square? Is it a horizontal rectangle? The Starbucks mermaid isn’t as much a mermaid as it is a green circle (from far away that’s all consumers need to see). Shape is the first stage of the sequence of cognition.

What patterns do you see in the video when it comes to overall shapes? (Hint: There are a ton of circles)

2. Color

Color is the second stage of the sequence of cognition and obviously not relevant here… so… on to the next stop (For more on color click here).

3. Content

Content mainly references typography. How are the letter forms presented? Are they legible? Are they interesting?

The typography presented in the railroad brand marks is amazing. It’s important to remember most of these aren’t “fonts” typed out on a computer. They were mostly hand crafted letter forms (carved wood block or metal type) although some of the logos towards the end are existing typefaces (Amtrak & CSX for example). It’s interesting to see the earlier designers push the boundaries of legibility, while the later logos rely on simple clean line letter forms.

What patterns and trends do you notice in the 150 years of railroad logos?

3 thoughts on “150 Years of Rolling on the Tracks”

  1. You know I love this stuff! So many gems in there. Scrolling through them you can really see a transition from the older, more detailed marks, to a simple, singular symbol.

  2. @Jonathan – So true! It’s cool to see the complex, detailed, crazy type get simplified over time. I wonder if that’s a result of evolved design thinking or cultural influences/ trends? The complex older marks (albeit beautiful) would be next to impossible to see on a moving train. Whereas, the newer simpler marks work beautifully when the train is in motion.

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