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Football’s Most Unique Logo
The Symbol of a Great Team and Franchise

by Bryan A. Scott

The Pittsburgh Steelers have not always been the Steelers. Originally founded as the Pittsburgh Pirates by Arthur Joseph Rooney on July 8, 1933, the Steelers changed their name in 1940 in an attempt to generate some fan support and involvement. Fans were encouraged to send their suggestions to the team; several nominated the winning name Steelers to reflect the city’s primary source of employment, winning season tickets for their suggestion.

The famous three-star Pittsburgh Steelers logo was a bit longer in coming, however. Helmet logos first became popular in 1948 when the Los Angeles Rams became the first team to use an insignia or logo on its helmet. Rams player Fred Gehrke, was also an artist and spent all of his free time that season hand-painting the distinctive Ram horns on 70 leather helmets. The next year, Riddell, manufacturer of the famous plastic helmet still in use today, agreed to bake the design into the helmet, prompting other teams to gradually add logos of their own.

The Steelers logo is based on the Steelmark logo belonging to the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). Created by U.S. Steel Corp. (now known as USX Corp.), the logo contains three hypocycloids (diamond shapes).

In the 1950s, when helmet logos became popular, the Steelers added players’ numbers to either side of their gold helmets. Later that decade, the numbers were removed and in 1962, Cleveland’s Republic Steel suggested to the Steelers that they use the Steelmark logo as a helmet logo.

When the Steelmark logo was created, U.S. Steel attached the following meaning to it: Steel lightens your work, brightens your leisure. The logo was used as part of a major marketing campaign to educate consumers about how important steel is in our daily lives. The steelmark logo was used in print, radio, and television ads as well as on the labels for all steel products, from steel tanks to tricycles to filing cabinets.

In the 1960s, U.S. Steel turned over the Steelmark program to AISI, where it came to represent the steel industry as a whole. During the 1970s, the logo’s meaning was extended to include the three materials used to produce steel: yellow for coal, orange for iron ore and blue for steel scrap. In the late 1980s, when the AISI founded the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI), the logo took on a new life reminiscent of its 1950s meaning.

The Steelers had to petition the AISI in order to change the word “Steel” inside the Steelmark to “Steelers” before the logo was complete.

The Steelers are the only NFL team that sports their logo on only one side of the helmet. At first, this was a temporary measure because the Steelers weren’t sure they would like the look of the logo on an all-gold helmet. They wanted to test them before going all-out.

Equipment manager Jack Hart was instructed to put the logo only on one side of the helmet—the right side. The 1962 Steelers finished 9-5 and became the winningest team in franchise history to date. The team finished second in the Eastern Conference and qualified for the Playoff Bowl. They wanted to do something special for their first postseason game, so they changed the color of their helmets from gold to black, which helped to highlight the new logo. Because of the interest generated by having the logo on only one side of their helmets and because of the team’s new success, the Steelers decided to leave it that way permanently.

Today’s helmet reflects the way the logo was originally applied and it has never been changed.

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