Few things are more “New York” than the NY Yankees. Their logo has been ubiquitous throughout the city for as long as most people can remember. But where exactly did the design come from? While there is an official story regarding the origin, the truth is actually more controversial. Claims have been made, and continue to be disputed to this day. According to the franchise itself the logo origin is as follows:
It wasn’t until 1909 that the most recognizable insignia in sports—the interlocking “NY”—made its first appearance on the caps and left sleeves of uniforms. The design was created in 1877 by Louis B. Tiffany for a medal to be given by the New York City Police Department to Officer John McDowell, the first NYC policeman shot in the line of duty. Perhaps because one of the club’s owners, Bill Devery, was a former NYC police chief, the design was adopted by the organization.
As you can already see from this text, the story has some facts mixed in with a bit of speculation. For starters there was indeed a logo designed for the NYPD by Louis Tiffany (though his middle initial is ‘C’, not ‘B’). This was the Medal of Valor, the most prestigious award for police bravery in the line of duty. Here is a picture of the front.Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Museum.
The reverse side confirms part of the origins story as well. There was indeed a John McDowell that received this award in 1877. You can read more about this fascinating story at Tom Schieber’s Sports Blog.
Here is the backside of that medal with John’s name inscribed on it:Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Museum.
However, the history of this logo has a bit of a preface, given that this team was not always called the Yankees. They were actually founded in 1901 as the Baltimore Orioles. This was their first logo:
The logo went on to evolve further in 1902, opting for the ‘B’ instead of the ‘O’:
The biggest change came when the franchise found itself under new ownership, which moved the team to New York. The transition earned themselves a new nickname - the NY Highlanders. It was a reference to the team’s elevated location at Hilltop Park and to the noted British military unit The Gordon Highlanders, which coincided with the team’s president, Joseph Gordon. As such the logo also needed an upgrade, experiencing various iterations over the years before it would morph into the one we know today
As you can see here, another bit of the official mythos has come unraveled, as some experimentation was made overlapping letters N and Y in the logo. This is a change that would not last long. The following versions would feature a radical departure from this style.
Which brings us to the year in question - 1909. This would be the moment that the team would settle on a timeless design which does indeed appear to be partially inspired by the NYPD Medal of Valor.
Here is a close-up of the medal for comparison’s sake:
The similarities are undeniable, though the Yankees logo is not quite a carbon copy, sporting its own set of graphical nuances, which would be further tweaked for a bolder, more familiar look in 1913
This logo has remained unchanged ever since, but as any true Yankees fan will tell you, the team doesn’t just have one emblem. A new “Bat in the Hat” insignia would also make its public debut in 1947.
This particular logo has become a popular choice for Yankees memorabilia and souvenirs while the franchise continues to represent itself with the same insignia from 1909, which has proven to be a timeless classic for the most successful team in baseball history.
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