THOMPSON & CO’S EXPRESS (1845)
WELLS AND POMEROY’S EXPRESS (1845)
TRUMAN CHAPMAN’S EXPRESS (1864)
Railroad logo design evolution
The first North American railroads were built 50 years before the first logo was trademarked (Bass Brewery, 1876). Stationery was created by printers, not designers. That’s the reason why the images above – from three different companies – look so similar. They were made with existing wood type fonts and if you look closely you’ll notice they all use the same ‘stock image’ of a locomotive.
The images below show the evolution after the first logo was trademarked. The first decades are the most interesting, simply because there were so many different. Like the department stores world, the railroad world has it’s own Macy’s. Companies like Amtrak and Union Pacific have taken over many smaller companies. Today, as the result of mergers and bankruptcies there are only eleven major ‘Class I’ railroads operating in the United States and Canada.
The early designs all have a certain handmade quality. Most of them are simple, bold, black and white. And timeless. Some of them can still be seen on box cars and locomotives; they still remain powerful.
In 1960 the notion of what a logo is, or can be, had changed. The Canadian National Railway logo, designed by Allan Fleming, is a radical departure from the aesthetics and style we’ve seen until then. The logo is still in use today.
This post concludes with the Amtrak logo (2000), which is a typical post-2000 logo without any meaning or character. Apparently the don’t like it either; it’s barely visible on their website.
LOUISVILLE NASHVILLE RAILROAD COMPANY (1886)
CHICAGO NORTHWESTERN RAILWAY (1886)
COLORADO MIDLAND RAILWAY (1886)
CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY (1888)
DELAWARE AND HUDSON RAILROAD (1889)
CHICAGO, ST. PAUL, MINNEAPOLIS AND OMAHA RAILWAY (1890)
SHENANDOAH VALLEY ROUTE (1890)
CENTRAL VERMONT RAILWAY (1891)
WISCONSIN CENTRAL LINES (1893)
NEW YORK, NEW HAVEN and HARTFORD RAILROAD (1893)
DETROIT GRAND HAVEN AND MILWAUKEE RAILWAY (1895)
CHESAPEAKE AND OHIO ROUTE (1895)
LAKE SHORE & MICHIGAN SOUTHERN RAILWAY (1895)
GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY (1895)
NEW YORK, ONTARIO AND WESTERN RAILWAY (1895)
ILLINOIS CENTRAL (1896)
The evolution of all Illinois Central logos can be found here.
NORTH WESTERN LINE (1899)
TEXAS PACIFIC RAILWAY (1899)
BOSTON ALBANY RAILROAD (1900)
MISSOURI-KANSAS-TEXAS RAILROAD (1900)
NORTHERN PACIFIC RAILWAY (1900)
LEHIGH VALLEY RAILROAD (1901)
PENNSYLVANIA RAILROAD (1902)
CENTRAL OF GEORGIA RAILWAY (1902)
BALTIMORE, CHESAPEAKE & ATLANTIC RAILWAY COMPANY (1905)
ATLANTIC COAST LINE (1910)
SOUTHERN PACIFIC LINES (1916)
NASHVILLE, CHATTANOOGA AND ST. LOUIS RAILWAY (1924)
ST. PAUL SOUTHERN RAILWAY (1925)
ATLANTA BIRMINGHAM COAST RAILROAD (1926)
BESSEMER and LAKE ERIE RAILROAD (1941)
BANGOR AND AROOSTOOK RAILROAD (1936)
NEW YORK CENTRAL SYSTEM (1936)
FLORIDA EAST COAST RAILWAY (1938)
DULUTH SOUTH SHORE AND ATLANTIC (1940)
KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN LINES (1940)
GULF, MOBILE AND OHIO RAILROAD (1944)
JERSEY CENTRAL LINES (1944)
KANSAS CITY SOUTHERN LINES (1944)
BALTIMORE AND OHIO RAILROAD (1945)
BOSTON AND MAINE RAILROAD (1945)
BALTIMORE AND OHIO RAILROAD (1947)
GREAT NORTHERN RAILWAY (1949)
ERIE LACKAWANNA RAILROAD (1950)
GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY (1954)
NEW HAVEN RAILROAD (1954)
Designed by Herbert Matter
More information about Matter’s design process here (video).
CANADIAN NATIONAL RAILWAY (1960)
Designed by Allan Fleming
CENTRAL VERMONT RAILWAY (1960)
GRAND TRUNK WESTERN RAILROAD (1963)
BURLINGTON NORTHERN RAILROAD (1965)
BANGOR AND AROOSTOOK RAILROAD (1973)
Designed by Tony Palladino
More images and identity guidelines on the Container List.
WESTERN PACIFIC RAILROAD (1979)
CSX TRANSPORTATION (1986)
NORFOLK SOUTHERN RAILWAY (1990)
I’ve tried to be as accurate as possible when assigning a date to an image. All dates are the earliest I could find. Some of them are obviously wrong. I used the internet to locate all images and one of the disadvantages of the internet is that it’s incomplete. If you’re a railroad freak and you know the accurate date, please leave a comment below. Thanks.
EDIT: I changed the date of the New Haven Railroad from 1960 to 1954 and added the designer. Thanks to Aura Seltzer.
EDIT 2: I added Tony Palladino as the designer of the Conrail identity. Thanks to the Glaser Archives.