Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Happy 50th Birthday, CN Wet Noodle!

I may be a CP Rail modeller, but I'm also a Canadian—and I appreciate excellence when I see it.

Things like the now-classic CN logo, or “wet noodle,” which celebrates its 50th birthday this year.

And so I say: Happy birthday, wet noodle!

The well known CN logo was designed by Canadian graphic designer Allan Fleming, who famously sketched it on a napkin while waiting in a plane for takeoff from New York.

According to designKULTUR, this is the napkin that
Fleming sketched the CN logo on.

"I think this symbol will last for 50 years at least,” he said. “I don't think it will need any revision, simply because it is designed with the future in mind. It’s very simplicity guarantees its durability."

He was right. The logo (also called “the lazy three” because of how it looks tilted on its side), outlasted the Conrail can opener, the Penn Central “mating worms,” the Chessie Cat and the CP Rail Multimark.

Today it is one of the most recognized corporate identities in the North American business world—a testament to Allen’s design. Even Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan called it "an icon."

Getting closer . . .
According to Canadian pollster Angus Reid, 99 percent of all Canadians recognize the logo and associate it with CN. (I wonder how many Americans do?)

How did the logo come to be? According to CN, the story began in 1959 when the railway surveyed Canadians attitude about the company.

The findings came as a great shock; when people thought of CN, they pictured an old-fashioned and backward organization, hostile to innovation—the very opposite of what the company was trying to achieve.

According to people who were surveyed, CN’s traditional livery was viewed as drab, and the company was seen as staid and obsolete.

CN concluded it needed a fresh new trademark and visual image so people would think of it as more technologically advanced—from locomotive paint schemes and building exteriors right down to the sugar packets used on passenger trains.

Allan Fleming, left, at the unveiling of the new logo.
A new logo was at the heart of the redesign program. The challenge was assigned to Allan Fleming, a young and highly-regarded Canadian graphic designer. After experimenting with countless possibilities, Fleming hit on his simple and inspired design while sitting on a New York-bound airplane.

It was a dramatic contrast to the existing image. Out went the maple leaf and wafer, the green and gold livery. In came the new logo and a bright red, black and white image, which is still being used today.

So, once again: Happy birthday to the CN logo!

Some photos and info from designKULTUR. Check it out for more images and info.


  1. John, let's hope our commemmoration of the 50th doesn't prompt CN to change logos...sort of a golden anniversary logo curse:) I think the Conrail can opener was underrated, but appreciate the reference.

  2. Great article & a great logo. I remember reading awhile back that when CN unveiled their logo, they said that they expected that it would last 50 years. Success!

    Now if only they'd go back to the zebra stripe paint scheme...

  3. Beautiful logo and it has clearly stood the test of time. I'm glad that CN has recognized what a treasure it has and has kept it intact, unlike VIA which has regrettably cluttered its logo with unnecessary verbiage and symbols!

  4. Awesome article,and nice logo.......

  5. CN has a good logo. I thought CP's multimark was better when it comes to surrealism. But when it comes to a logo which is simple, yet apt at the same time, CN wins. As for why CN won't go back to the zebra scheme Jesse, is because it was becoming too costly. It was a busy paint scheme and was all about shareholders saving a buck if they can.