The Origins of the IU Logo and Colors

Andrea has since graduated and moved on, but she left us with some of her amazing blog posts ready to go! Congratulations to Andrea and we think we convinced her that archives is where she wants to be!  

Indiana University Archives P0024505, 2006

Nowadays, the above image is such an iconic and powerful symbol that you can ask pretty much any Midwestern American what it means and they’ll be able to tell you right off the bat: “That’s Indiana University.” It’s on almost every licensed set of apparel or memorabilia you can purchase under the university’s name. And if the letters don’t immediately tip you off, surely the colors will. Over the past century, the IU interlocking insignia in crimson/cream has become a statement that adds up to so much more than the sum of its parts; it means Hoosier pride, excellence in education and athletics, and to many, home. We tend to take things like this simple and enduring design for granted. But where did it come from? After all, someone had to have designed it.

Indiana University Archives P0026900, 1898

The earliest known version of the interlocking insignia can be found in the 1898 Arbutus on the introductory page before the Athletics section. This design was, as labelled, drawn by Claude McDonald Hamilton. We’ve been unable to find any instance of the symbol that predates this one, but from this moment on, you can find many instances of the IU logo in the early 20th century. Many of the early examples of the symbol were used for athletic purposes. Hamilton, notably, was a member of the IU football team for four years, served as editor of the Arbutus, and graduated with a degree in Economics in 1898. There’s no telling whether Hamilton designed this logo himself or borrowed it from some other unknown source.

Indiana University Archives P0026905 1900

As for the colors, we have a somewhat more comprehensive history of their origins. The December 1887 Indiana Student noted that the “colors of the university are crimson and black. Senior class cream and gold.” So, at some point, the two different color combinations must have fused together. By 1903, The Daily Student published an article that stated most of the students and faculty had no idea what IU’s colors were, but several answered confidently that the colors were some variation of crimson, red, white, and cream. The writer of this article explicitly stated that the colors of the university were cream and crimson, explaining that these colors were adopted fifteen years prior (in 1888). Apparently, the colors gained popularity due to their catchy alliteration.

In later years, IU switched to a simpler red and white. It wasn’t until around 2002 that they reverted back to the signature cream and crimson. The University hired Michael-Osborne Design from San Francisco to redesign the interlocking IU symbol with instructions to apply the crimson color to it. Designer Paul Kagiwada gave the logo a newer, cleaner look. The result is that same iconic symbol you’ll see all over campus today.

Indiana Daily Student, November 5, 2002