The Arrowhead logo used by the National Park Service is easily recognizable today and has a rich history.
Many people have undoubtedly seen the famous arrowhead logo used by the National Parks Service (NPS). However, few stop to ask what the National Park Service arrowhead logo actually symbolizes and the history behind it.
This often-overlooked logo has a rich and fascinating history. The components symbolized within it are arguably even more captivating.
Simply put, the National Parks Service arrowhead logo was approved as its official emblem in 1951 and represents the three core values of the organization: conservation, preservation, and recreation.
Now you’re likely asking yourself, “What do the images depicted in the arrowhead logo represent? How did it come about, and who designed it?”
In this article, we’ll discuss the following:
- What is the origin of the National Parks Service Arrowhead?
- Timeline of the NPS Arrowhead
- Meaning of the National Park Service Arrowhead Logo
What is the origin of the National Park Service Arrowhead?
From the inception of the National Parks Service, Park Rangers searched for an identity. They wanted to show visitors who they were and what the mission of the NPS was. Essentially, they were searching for a symbol that represented the purpose of the NPS.
Of course, the iconic Arrowhead logo we know today was what the NPS settled on. However, the process leading to its creation was long and complex. In fact, the Arrowhead logo didn’t exist until 1951.
The original logo was created in 1916. It portrayed a sequoia cone with branches surrounded by a circle. Many were, however, unsatisfied with this logo as they felt it didn’t fully represent all aspects of the NPS.
It took decades until the Parks Service began considering ideas for a new, adequate logo. In 1949, a service-wide contest was organized to find a new logo design. There was a $50 prize for the winner. A man named Dudley Bayliss won the contest. His logo was known as the “road badge” design.
Nevertheless, Bayliss’s emblem was never used by the NPS. Members of the review committee that decided on the winning design thought it was “good and well presented, but it was, as were most of the submissions, a formal modern type.” The committee was hoping for something that would’ve better symbolized what the parks were truly about.
Shortly after the contest, historian Aubrey V. Neasham wrote a letter to NPS Director Newton B. Drury. Neasham proposed that the NPS should use a logo that clearly demonstrated its fundamental purpose. He suggested something “like an arrowhead, or a tree or a buffalo.” He also included a simple sketch showcasing an arrowhead with a pine tree.
Later, in 1951, Neasham’s design was expanded upon by Herbert Maier. He is known as the architect that formulated “parkitecture.”
“Parkitecture” is the classic rustic style of architecture associated with the Park Service.
Maier and his associates crafted the modern-day Arrowhead. The up-to-date logo was used for the first time in 1952 on a pamphlet for Oregon Caves National Monument. By 1955, the notorious Arrowhead logo was used on all NPS uniforms.
Timeline of the NPS Arrowhead
- 1916: The NPS is formed; the first logo is created. This logo features the sequoia cone and branches. It was sparingly used until the mid-20th century and was never officially acknowledged.
- 1949: Dudley Bayliss wins a contest held by the NPS for designing an official emblem of the Parks Service. It featured a road leading into a mountain range. The contest committee thought the design was good but wasn’t what they were looking for.
- 1949: Aubrey Neasham sent a letter to Park Service Director Newton B. Drury. Aubrey proposes that the NPS needs a logo that reveals its central purpose. He recommended a logo shaped like an arrowhead, tree, or buffalo. He draws a sketch of his arrowhead pine tree design.
Logo’s Redesign and Implementation
- 1951: Conrad Wirth, the new NPS Director, enjoyed Neasham’s design and gave it to “parkitecture” architect Herbert Maier. Now assistant director of Region IV, Maier and his staff adjusted Neasham’s design. The final product was the classic NPS Arrowhead logo showcasing a sequoia tree, bison, mountains, and water.
- 1951: On July 20, 1951, Secretary of the Interior Oscar L. Chapman officially approved the new emblem.
- 1952: The new logo is used for the first time on an Oregon Caves National Monument pamphlet. It also appears on a plaque at an NPS conference.
- 1955: NPS rangers begin to use the Arrowhead logo on their uniforms. The logo quickly becomes easily recognizable. It’s commonly used on park signs and brochures.
Making the Arrowhead Logo Official
- 1962: To avert any commercial uses of the arrowhead design, an official notice was approved on March 7, 1962. The notice was published in the Federal Register on March 15, 1962. This designated it as the official symbol of the NPS.
- 1965: On February 9, 1965, the U.S. Patent Office registered the Arrowhead logo.
Squashed Attempt to Change Logos
- 1966-1969: An attempt to modernize the design of the logo was made but was met with swift retaliation. NPS employees rejected the new abstract design.
- 1970: The NPS ultimately settles on keeping the logo the same.
Logo Adapts With the Internet
- 2001: Graphic design tools strengthened the NPS’s ability to communicate with the public through sign-making technology.
- 2014-Present: Slight adjustments are made to the NPS logo. This includes minor alterations to the bison, tree, and mountains. Furthermore, a shaded relief rendition of the Arrowhead logo was created to be used in various publications.
Meaning of the National Park Service Arrowhead Logo
The National Parks Service Mission is to “preserve unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations.”
The NPS Arrowhead symbol correlates strongly with their mission. The NPS has never given an official explanation as to what the various facets of the Arrowhead emblem represent. Nonetheless, the logo’s imagery clearly symbolizes the NPS’s numerous elements.
The shape of the Arrowhead itself represents the Park’s archeological and historical treasures.
The Sequoia tree and grasslands represent all vegetation.
The mountains represent stunning scenery, geologic formations, and recreational opportunities like hiking.
The bison represents all animal wildlife in the parks.
The lake represents water and recreational activities like swimming, fishing, and kayaking.
The colors used on the emblem symbolize America’s natural resources. The green, brown, and white shades used on the logo represent America’s varied and stunning landscapes and the plants and animals that call them home.
The creation of the park logo stretches back to the creation of the NPS in 1916! It took decades for the emblem we know and love today to make its way through growing pains.
The logo itself represents the three core values of the NPS: conservation, preservation, and recreation.
Next time you see that famous Arrowhead logo at one of our Nation’s National Parks, take a minute to reflect on how it came to be. Hopefully, this article gave you some insight into this rich part of the NPS’s history!
The welcome sign at Olympic National Park Visitor Center featuring the iconic Arrowhead logo. NPS/D. Sullivan