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 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.
The connection between the sports team and the NYPD was further discussed by Yankee historian Marty Appel:
“One of the team’s co-owners was former New York City Police Chief Big Bill Devery, and [in 1877] he had commissioned Louis Tiffany – yes, of that Tiffany – to design a police medal to honor a fallen officer.”Photo courtesy of the New York City Police Museum.
The reverse side confirms part of the origin 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.
Given that this team was not always called the Yankees, the branding history of the franchise predates these initial designs. The team was initially 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.
Since then the franchise and its fanbase has grown, right alongside the city it has come to represent so well. Whether it’s on a hat, jacket or t-shirt, there’s a certain measure of authenticity and style which has been enjoyed by countless fans, incuding pop culture celebrities who have helped to elevate the brand to an international symbol of athletic excellence for fans throughout the world.
Fine Print Art is an educational independent research publication. The above content has not been officially sponsored by Yankee Global Enterprises.