Where did the Chevy bow tie come from? From Durant's newspaper, most likely
For years, the story of the Chevrolet bow tie emblem was consistent: Durant had seen the design on wallpaper in Paris. But it wasn't true. For one thing, Durant wasn't traveling to Europe in the 1911-12 period when he was organizing Chevrolet Motor Car Co.
For another, Durant's widow, Catherine, said she clearly remembered where the emblem came from. In a 1972 interview, she told me Durant got the idea from an advertisement in a Sunday newspaper when they were vacationing in Hot Springs, Va.
She said: "We were in a suite, reading the papers, and he saw this design and said, 'I think this would be a very good emblem for the Chevrolet.' I'm not sure he said Chevrolet, because I don't think he had even settled on a name yet."
Help from a coal company
When Chevrolet historian Ken Kaufmann saw that reference in my 1973 biography of Durant, he began to look through newspapers that might have circulated in Hot Springs at that time. Finally, after 17 years of on-and-off checking, he found it in the Nov. 12, 1911, Atlanta Constitution: An ad for Coalettes — coal sold in small, concentrated chunks by the Southern Compressed Coal Co. — included a bow tie emblem.
Kaufmann noted the date was nine days after Chevrolet Motor was incorporated.
"I think I experienced the same excitement Durant did almost 80 years ago when he might have spotted the same ad in the same paper," he wrote in his column in the July 1990 issue of Generator & Distributor, the magazine of the Vintage Chevrolet Club of America.
Kaufmann, interviewed recently, pointed out that Durant apparently got the logos for two of his cars from the same ad.
In addition to the Coalettes bow tie, the ad also displays a circle containing the words "The Little Coals with the Big Heat." In addition to Chevrolet, Durant recently had set up Little Motor Car Co., named for his associate Bill Little. The new company's logo soon appeared — looking similar to the circle design in the same ad.
The Buick logo
It was very much in character for Durant to work on brand names and logo designs for his products. Durant's daughter Margery remembered him drawing a script logo for his first auto venture, Buick.
Since Durant had taken over David Buick's fledgling auto concern in 1904, some of his associates wanted him to change the car's name to Durant.
But Durant liked the ring of the Buick name, Margery said, and he wanted to honor "the man who invented the engine."
In her 1929 book, My Father, Margery Durant recalled her father drawing a diagonal and then writing the Buick name diagonally. "I think that's the name we want, and I think that's the way we want to use it," he reportedly said.
Durant also said he came up with the name General Motors, one of several on a list he had made. His lawyers recommended it in September 1908 after telling him the International Motors and United Motors names were unavailable.
And when Durant later backed a tiny refrigerator company with his own money, before turning it over to GM, he created its famous brand name.
"As I was riding to the office one morning, it occurred to me that our main effort, for a considerable time, had been the creation and use of ... frigid-cold air," he wrote in his unfinished autobiography.
"Upon my arrival at the office, I applied for registration the name Frigidaire ... an excellent name, I must admit."