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A Logo to Love: The Classic Car in Heart

By Dave J. Moore, Brand Archivist and Historian

Here at Carhartt, we’ve created some pretty iconic garments over the years. Our customers’ love for these products has kept them in our line for many, many years. But our icons aren’t just limited to Carhartt’s legendary overalls and coats. One of our original brand marks, the “Car in Heart,” encapsulates not only the early years of the Hamilton Carhartt Overall Company, but also serves as a representation of who we are as a brand.

enlarge image “Car in Heart” logo, 1920s
“Car in Heart” logo, 1920s

The “Car in Heart” was one of our earliest logos, but it wasn’t the very first. This is the oldest logo that appears in the Carhartt Archive’s records, and it was used from 1889 until around 1900.

enlarge image “Car Plus Heart” logo, circa 1900
“Car Plus Heart” logo, circa 1900

As you can see, the logo itself didn’t actually contain the name of the company. It used images of a train car and a heart to create a symbolic representation of our brand name: car + heart = Carhartt. The “Car Plus Heart” mark was used in catalogs and on marketing materials (including massive 8’ x 9’ banners that were available to retailers), as well as the garment labels themselves. The logo template (a diamond with a rectangular background) was common among contemporary companies that also employed union labor.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the “Car in Heart” mark made its debut. It would prove to have staying power, serving as the company’s main logo until the early 1960s. Unlike its predecessor, it clearly emphasized the Carhartt brand name. The earliest versions included either “Carhartt” or “Carhartt’s” in block lettering.

enlarge image 'Car in Heart' with block lettering, 1900s
“Car in Heart” with block lettering, 1900s

The name was later switched to a script font, which is probably the most prevalent form of the logo.

The “Car in Heart” appeared everywhere, including marketing materials, garment labels, buttons, and corporate letterheads. A famous quote from company founder Hamilton Carhartt read, “The famous Car and Heart buttons on Carhartt Overalls are used to protect the buyer from any substitution. Every pair of genuine Carhartt's carries them.”

enlarge image Carhartt button, circa 1889
Carhartt button, circa 1889

Even the very first Carhartt coupon, which gave the bearer a 25 cent discount on a pair of overalls, bore the famous “Car in Heart.”

enlarge image Coupon, circa 1925
Coupon, circa 1925

Although the overall look stayed the same, several slogans appeared within the heart throughout the years, including: “Union Made,” “Master Cloth,” “Eight Hour Work Day,” and “From Mill to Millions.”

enlarge image Eight Hour logo, 1920s
Eight Hour logo, 1920s

On garments, the script “Carhartt” within the logo appeared both horizontally and diagonally. The diagonal version was used starting around 1950. It was most prevalent on our railroad caps, but could also be seen on a few other select pieces.

enlarge image Diagonal script logo, circa 1950
Diagonal script logo, circa 1950

The “Car in Heart” wasn’t just a brand mark – it was a symbol for how we conducted our business as well. It was a philosophy centered around giving. Hamilton Carhartt was a pioneer for workers’ rights, which was reflected in how he treated both his employees and consumers. He also supported numerous charitable efforts, a tradition that the company carries on to this day.

In the wake of World War I, the devastation in Europe created many orphans. The Franco-American Committee for the Protection of Children of the Frontier was formed and became one of the most expansive relief organizations for these children.

Hamilton Carhartt got his company involved, sending shipments of children’s overalls to France. Committee Director Erica Thorp wrote to Hamilton, “Besides their usefulness, the overalls are so good-looking! The boys feel completely ‘dressed-up’ in them, and villagers stroll by on purpose to see the ‘pantalons americains.’”

enlarge image French children in Carhartt overalls, 1918
French children in Carhartt overalls, 1918

Hamilton also felt a deep obligation to get involved with organizations that supported those in the trade that had helped him build his business in the first place: railroad workers. He was a long-time supporter of the Home for Aged and Disabled Railroad Employees of America, located in Highland Park, Illinois. Throughout the early 1900s, Hamilton furnished rooms in the home, donated several automobiles, gave outright monetary donations, and even donated stock in his company, which continued to pay out yearly dividends. The manager of the home, John O’Keefe, once wrote, “In the early history of the Home the name Carhartt appears as a loyal friend of the helpless brotherhood men who were forced to seek its shelter and protection.”

enlarge image Home for Aged and Disabled Railroad Employees of America
Home for Aged and Disabled Railroad Employees of America

As you can see, the history of Carhartt is the history of a company that shows the love. The “Car in Heart” was truly a brand mark that exemplified the way the company operated. We’re proud to keep that tradition alive today by continuing providing our customers with the best gear possible and continuing Hamilton’s efforts to help those in need.