What is a Mascot?
Automotive mascots got their name from the French word mascotte, which is derived from the Provençal word mascoto, which in turn is derived from the Latin masca. Over time, these words gave rise to words meaning “specter, nightmare, witch, wizard, and sorcerer.” Ultimately, the word mascot eventually came to refer to any object that was thought to bring good luck or to symbolize a group like a sports team, company, or organization.
Mascots have been called “hood ornaments,” but it is unlikely that the ones at the Revs Institute from the Miles Collier Collections were ever mounted on the hood of a car. They were most likely mounted on a car’s external radiator cap or even on the dashboard. Mascots became quite popular during the early 1900s through the mid-1930s because of their association with good luck; many automobiles at the time were not considered to be the most reliable, and drivers hoped a mascot would bring them better luck with their car. In seeking these good luck charms, drivers were able to find or make mascots with special personal meaning that they could put on their car.
Mascots soon were not only good luck charms but a way for drivers and owners to be able to personalize their car. Later, car companies would embrace the idea and create corporate mascots to represent their brand, so the public could easily identify a specific marque or model. Many of these corporate mascots have become iconic over time, such as Rolls-Royce’s Spirit of Ecstasy, Bentley’s Flying B, and Jaguar’s Leaping Cat.
Mascots were not just ornamental, some mascots were utilitarian and served a specific purpose. The Dodge Brother’s Boyce MotoMeter was designed to monitor engine coolant temperatures. Many early automobiles did not have standard temperature gauges for their engines, so the Boyce MotoMeter was a unique and valuable piece of equipment that helped to prevent engine failure. Some consider these types of engine gauges a type of mascot as they could be intricate works of functional art, such as the Gidelite.
As the mascot craze grew, different types of mascots were being created. While most mascots were made from metals such as brass, bronze, aluminum, or zinc alloys, some were even made from glass. The materials mascots were made from varied over time as well as whether they were handcrafted by individual artists or mass produced by companies.
Most metal mascots were created using the lost-wax method. The lost-wax method has been used to create objects since approximately 4500 BCE. The casting process is, to a certain degree, standardized, but each foundry may have a variant of the overall method depending on the designs they are creating and what materials and metals they are using.
The process begins with an artist creating an original model out of wax or clay, then making a mold of the original model. Once the mold is complete, molten wax is poured into the mold, and this hollow wax copy is removed from the mold when the wax has hardened. The wax copy is then dipped into a “slurry” of a ceramic-like material and left to dry. The ceramic shell is then placed into a kiln where the wax melts and drains out, leaving a negative space in the design that the wax created in the shape of the original model. The ceramic shell is then filled with liquid metal, such as bronze, and when the metal has cooled and hardened, the ceramic shell is chipped away to reveal a metal version of the original wax or clay model.
The lost-wax process can be refined to show even the smallest details that the artist wants to include.
History of Automotive Mascots
The mascot is not a new idea that suddenly came about with the invention and popularity of automobiles, but it is an idea that has been around for thousands of years.
Possibly one of the earliest examples of a mascot may be on one of Egyptian pharaoh King Tutankhamun’s chariots. King Tutankhamun, or “King Tut,” ruled during the 18th dynasty from approximately 1332-1323 BCE. His tomb was rediscovered in 1922 by archaeologist Howard Carter, making the chariot approximately 3,300 years old. According to Efe Uygar, a founder of the Key Automotive Museum in Turkey, the sun-crested falcon mounted on the chariot was for good luck. This trend to put similar good luck charms on chariots is thought to have continued through Roman times.
Not only were chariots decorated, but horses were decorated as well. At least 2,000 years ago, metallic ornamentation on horses was quite common. The tack and harness of the horse would be decorated with brasses, bells, and terrets which were believed to ward off evil spirits. The bells and terrets, like the first mascots, had a purpose. On the narrow roads in England during the 1700-1800s, the bells and terrets acted as a warning system, allowing time for the wagoners to pull off to the side of the road allowing another wagon to pass.
The idea of warding off evil spirits and bad luck continued into the 1890s as the automobile began to flourish. On similarly narrow roads in poor condition, drivers and their mechanics fought repairs, punctures, and other mishaps every few miles. Drivers followed in tradition and added good luck charms to their cars.
Soon, mascots were not only used for their supposed good luck but were used to personalize the automobile. In the early 1900s, these mascots allowed motorists to express their individuality and many were as unique as the motorists themselves. They ranged in variety from carefully handcrafted works of art to stuffed teddy bears. Mascots could truly be anything.
An extreme example of this comes from Lord David George Brownlow Cecil Burghley (February 9, 1905 – October 22, 1981), who is known for his gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the 1928 Summer Olympics. After receiving a series of hip-replacements, he had his first titanium hip silver-plated and embellished with his family crest. Using the motto, “A loyal supporter,” Lord Burghley had it mounted as a mascot on his Rolls-Royce.
In 1910, as mascots grew in popularity, and sometimes absurdity, Rolls-Royce decided to commission its own mascot to better represent the brand instead of having just any mascot on their automobile. Charles Sykes (December 18, 1875 – June 6, 1950), an English sculptor, created what would become one of the most well-known automotive mascots The Flying Lady, also known as the Spirit of Ecstasy. The Spirit of Ecstasy was first designed to be an optional accessory, but it soon became standard on every Rolls-Royce.
Soon after Rolls-Royce unveiled its mascot, other auto manufacturers started to follow. Brands like Ford, Riley, Sunbeam, Rover, and Cadillac each had their own mascot design for their cars. These company-manufactured mascots allowed each brand to be easily recognized amongst the many other accessory mascots on the road.
As company mascots continued to evolve, the market for unique accessory mascots was still on the rise. By the mid-to-late 1920s, accessory mascots could be purchased from specialty jewelry stores, auto catalogs, and magazines. Mascots could be purchased for anywhere between $1 to $40, when the average yearly salary was approximately $1,400. While many mascots were made by individual artists, there were larger manufacturers like DESMO and A.E. Lejeune that produced mascots for retail sale. Lejeune is still in business today producing mascots using traditional methods and materials.
During the Great Depression and through the 1930s, the mascot trend started to decline. It was not only due to the economy that mascots started to fall out of favor, but it was also due to changing auto design. As cars started to become more streamlined and radiators moved under the hood, the mascot no longer had its place on the radiator cap. In addition, on October 1, 1937 an English law was passed that stated: “No mascot shall be carried by a motor vehicle registered on or after October 1, 1937, in any position where it is likely to strike any person with whom the vehicle may collide, unless the mascot is not liable to cause injury to such person by reason of any projection thereon.” This law, while not outright banning mascots, did have a negative impact on their popularity.
As World War II began, all types of manufacturing plants turned their production towards the war effort. Materials that were previously used to create mascots, and even the actual mascots themselves, were now used to make arms and military items. After World War II, with the continued shortage of raw material, most accessory mascots were no longer being made, and many mascot producers had to shut down. A small mascot revival took place in the 1950s as designers celebrated new technology and the future, but by the 1960s design and safety regulations took their toll on the automotive mascot. The design of the marque badge took over, leaving the personality and individuality of the mascot behind.
Company and Club Mascots
In addition to accessory mascots, company or corporate mascots became just as common to see on automobiles.
Auto manufacturers and other companies were looking for ways to not only make their brand recognizable on the roads, but also to advertise their cars’ prowess and technical achievements.
La Cocotte, circa 1924
Designed around 1924 as a corporate mascot for Avions Voisin was the mascot known as La Cocotte. Avions Voisin, based in Issy-les-Moulineaux, France, was founded by aviation pioneer Gabriel Voisin (February 5, 1880 – December 25, 1973) in 1919, after he abandoned aviation design because of World War I and the use of his designs in warfare.
A mechanical enthusiast who studied at the Fine Arts School of Lyon, Gabriel Voisin’s car designs focused on using light metal alloys, especially aluminum.
Gabriel Voisin soon collaborated with André Noel who also focused on lightness, central weight distribution, and angular lines. Voisin also used his designs to emphasize what he thought a car should be and made sure that it had comfort, good visibility, quiet operation, and plenty of luggage space. By including these impressive technical and rational details into car design, Avions Voisin soon became known as a luxury automobile manufacturer and was viewed to be in the same league as Bugatti.
Much of this rational design philosophy was embodied in the La Cocotte mascot that adorned Avions Voisin cars. The wings and head of the bird reflect Gabriel Voisin’s past in aeronautics, aerodynamics, and fluid dynamics. Each mascot was created with a dozen or so thin aircraft-grade aluminum sheet pieces, held together with rivets. Supposedly, this art deco inspired bird with its aircraft motifs was made from scrap aluminum left over from car production.
Mr. Therm, circa 1931
Automotive mascots were not only used by auto manufacturers but by other types of companies. For example, Mr. Therm started out not as a mascot for radiator caps, but as an illustrated character for an advertisement for the British Gas Light & Coke Company.
The Gas Light & Coke Company (GLCC) were makers and suppliers of coal gas and fuel coke with headquarters in Westminster, London. The company was founded in 1812 by Frederick Albert Winsor with royal approval by King George III and was the first to supply London with coal gas. By 1827, the GLCC was supplying gas to over 70,000 street lights in London, making it a significant company of the time.
Like any other company, the GLCC used advertisements to promote new gas products as well as their “clean burning” gas and coke. In 1931, the "Mr. Therm" character was created, and he would first appear in an advertisement for gas in 1933. The character would continue to be used for over 30 years by the gas industry. The creator of "Mr. Therm" was none other than noted illustrator Eric Fraser.
Eric Fraser (June 11, 1902 – November 15, 1983), known for his contributions to the Radio Times, a British weekly television and radio program listing magazine. Fraser’s art varied from pen and ink illustrations to watercolor, and he worked for many publications, including magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar as a fashion illustrator. Fraser would later produce illustrations for the Folio Society’s edition of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in 1977, adapting his personal style to that of the text.
Soon after the "Mr. Therm" character was created by Fraser in 1931, it was used as an automotive mascot and could be seen on many of the GCCL’s delivery vans. The stylized gas-flame sprite leans forward with a cheery smile, its wings spread to the sides and sweeping backwards.
Cygne, circa 1930s
Another corporate mascot is Cygne which was used by Citroën in the 1920s. Citroën, a French automobile manufacturer, was founded in 1919 by French industrialist André Gustave Citroën.
André Gustave Citroën (February 5, 1878 – July 3, 1935) was born in Paris, and his family had moved to Paris in 1873 from Warsaw. Supposedly, when André was in school, one of his teachers added the French diaeresis to the Dutch surname Citroen changing it to Citroën. The Citroen surname comes from his paternal grandfather from the Netherlands who sold tropical fruit and took the surname Limoenman or “lime man,” and his son then changed it to Citroen meaning “lemon.”
As a young boy, André was inspired to become an engineer after watching the construction of the Eiffel Tower and reading the works of Jules Verne, famous for Journey to the Center of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He graduated from the École Polytechnique in 1900 and began his military service as an artillery sub-lieutenant in Le Mans, France.
On a trip to Poland, he bought a patent on herringbone or double chevron gears, which were more efficient and quieter than traditional gears. The look of these gears would later become the inspiration for the historic Citroën logo.
In 1908, André was hired by Automobiles Mors to reorganize their manufacturing process. He was able to increase their production from 124 to 1,200 cars per year by studying American mass-production methods.
By World War I, as an artillery lieutenant, André noticed a lack of ammunition, and he proposed that France support his creation of a factory capable of producing 20,000 shells per day. After six weeks, the factory was constructed and within a few months, daily production reached up to 55,000 shells.
After the war, André converted his factory from making ammunition to manufacturing popular mass-produced cars. With the success of the 10 hp Type A in 1919, André was able to make more technological advances, such as the all-steel body, unibody chassis, front-wheel drive, and the floating-power engine.
The floating-power engine used flexible rubber mounts placed between the engine and chassis. These rubber mounts reduced engine vibrations which made for a smoother ride. By 1932, the Citroën C4 and C6 were fitted with the new system and were renamed Moteur Floating Power. Soon all Citroën cars were equipped with the floating-power engine.
To celebrate and advertise this advancement, Citroën designed a logo and the Cygne mascot to represent the floating-power engine. The mascot depicts a swan floating on the water’s surface. The elegance of the swan and how it could smoothly glide through the water illustrated the improvements the floating-power engine brought to Citroën.
Royal Automobile Club Full Member, circa 1910s-1920s
The Royal Automobile Club Full Member mascot was one of the club mascots for the Royal Automobile Club. In 1897, the Royal Automobile Club, originally named the Automobile Club of Great Britain, was founded by Frederick Richard Simms. Frederick Richard Simms (August 12, 1863 – April 22, 1944), born in Hamburg, Germany, became a British mechanical engineer, inventor, and motor industry pioneer. By founding the Royal Automobile Club, he was able to promote the automobile and its place in society.
In 1900, the club introduced the 1000 Mile Trial and with its success the club held the first Tourist Trophy in 1905. The Tourist Trophy is considered to be the longest running trophy in motorsports. Since 1905, the race has been held at various venues and different types of cars such as Grand Prix, touring, and sports cars have competed.
The Royal Automobile Club is noted for campaigning for the rights of motorists throughout history. In 1902 and 1903, the Royal Automobile Club, along with the Association of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and then Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, had major influence on the Motor Car Act of 1903. The Motor Car Act had originally proposed to remove all speed limits for cars after the Locomotives on Highways Act of 1896 was thought to be “absurd” with its 14 miles-per-hour speed limit.
With the support of the Royal Automobile Club and other organizations, the Motor Car Act was adjusted, and even with considerable opposition, instituted a 20 miles-per-hour speed limit. It also introduced the offence not only for reckless driving, but dangerous or negligent driving, as well as mandatory vehicle registration, driver’s licenses, and regulations regarding the braking ability of vehicles.
As the Royal Automobile Club flourished, the club developed a motoring service that consisted of uniformed motorcycle patrols that would help members with mechanical issues on major roads. This resulted in not only a desire to have an automotive mascot to represent the club but the need for a mascot to show who was a member. The Royal Automobile Club mascot enabled these patrols to clearly see who was a club member, their member status, and if they were a member from a foreign country. The patrols would also salute members as they drove by, and if they didn’t salute it was a sign to the driver that there was a speed trap ahead. This practice of saluting stopped by 1963.
Over time, this patrol service grew and became available for the general public for roadside assistance and insurance, known as RAC. In 1999, the RAC company was sold by the members of the Royal Automobile Club.
As more drivers and automobile owners added mascots to their cars, many drivers wanted to have their own unique and personalized mascot. Unlike the corporate mascot that was created on a mass scale by companies, these unique one-of-a-kind pieces were considered accessory mascots. This desire for customization led to people using creative objects like statuettes or bookends as mascots. Motorists also began to seek out craftspeople to commission special pieces depicting a favorite subject, animal, or event.
Background Photo: Egyptian Girl, circa 1920s.
Eagle on Rock, circa 1920s-1930s
As the desire for mascots grew, the creativity of how and what to affix to one’s radiator cap knew no bounds. The mascot Eagle on Rock was possibly a flag pole finial, or topper, that was repurposed as an automotive mascot.
Eagle on Rock depicts a majestic and strong eagle perched on a rocky outcropping. With its head raised high, pointing to its left, and beak open on a cry, the eagle gives the impression that it is hunting or ready to take flight.
Schneider Seaplane, 1931
The Schneider Seaplane mascot was inspired by the 1931 winner of the Schneider Trophy race. The race was founded by Jacques Schneider, who was the son of a wealthy French armaments manufacturer and had a passion for high-speed boating and hydroplanes. In 1908, Schneider met Wilbur Wright and became interested in aviation. A hydroplane crash in 1910 ended Schneider's flying career, but his love for aircraft design and hydroplanes led him to create his own competition two years later.
Following the fourth Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup race for landplanes in Chicago in 1912, Schneider announced La Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider which was more commonly known as the Schneider Trophy. Schneider hoped the competition would foster the development of practical and reliable aircraft. At first, the races were between aircraft entered by individuals or private companies. Many of these early entries were converted landplanes or were inspired by existing designs. After World War I, many nations had improved their aircraft due to wartime demands, and the spirit of competitive flying with a focus on speed took hold.
Between 1913 and 1931, the trophy was won 12 times: once by France (1913), twice by the United States (1923 and 1924), three times by Italy (1920, 1921, 1926), and five times by the United Kingdom (1914, 1922, 1927-1931).
On September 13, 1931, the final Schneider Trophy race was won by Flight Lt. John N. Boothman of the United Kingdom. He would race his blue and silver Supermarine S.6B S1595 with a Rolls-Royce R engine that could produce 2,305 horsepower. Fearing that his plane would not last more than 90 minutes before the engine would melt onto its mountings, Boothman questioned if he would be able to complete the 33-mile lap seven times as planned.
After taking off at 1:02pm, Boothman’s first lap averaged 343.1 miles per hour with a time of 5.5 minutes. In only 47 minutes, Boothman completed the race averaging an overall speed of 340.08 miles per hour.
In honor of this momentous win, the Schneider Seaplane mascot was created, depicting Boothman’s Supermarine S.6B seaplane. The mascot has two pontoons for landing and the propeller freely rotates. The seaplane is also on a swivel which allowed it to bank to the left and right as it caught the air when mounted on its radiator cap on the front of a car.
Chow Chow, circa 1920s-1930s
Animals were popular subjects for automotive mascots, and many drivers would commission unique pieces to showcase their favorite animal or pet. Dogs were especially popular as mascots not only as accessory mascots but also as corporate mascots. Some of the marques that utilized dogs as their mascots were the Ford Motor Company with the greyhound on the Lincoln (1927), and the Mack Brothers Company with a bulldog on their trucks (1932).
The Chow Chow is an example of one of the many mascots inspired by dogs. With its thick fur coat that is reminiscent of a lion mane, curled tail, and alert ears, this mascot stands guard over its automotive charge.
The Chow Chow dog breed may have originated over 2,000 years ago in northern China, or perhaps even 3,000 years ago in Arctic Asia and then migrated to Mongolia, Siberia, and then China.
Through DNA studies, scientists have been able to determine that the Chow Chow is considered an ancient breed of dog, suggesting that the Chow Chow may be directly descended from the first dogs and traveled with their nomadic owners.
There are early depictions of the dogs in pottery and paintings dating back to the Han Dynasty (206 BCE to 22 CE) showing the importance of these animals in China.
In northern China, the Chow Chow is referred to as Songshi Quan, meaning “puffy-lion dog” or Tang Quan, “Dog of the Tang Empire” as well as many other names.
Many believe that the Foo dog, the traditional stone guardians of Buddhist temples, are modeled after Chow Chow dogs. Chow Chows were then later bred to be working dogs for herding, hunting, pulling dog sleds, and guarding.
The breed gained European popularity in the late 1800s when Queen Victoria took interest in the breed, and by 1895 a breed club was formed in England. Five years earlier in 1890, a Chow Chow named Takya was the first Chow Chow to be in the American Westminister Kennel Club show, taking third place in the Miscellaneous Class. Later in 1903, the American Kennel Club formally recognized the breed, increasing its popularity even further.
The unique history and iconic look of the Chow Chow breed makes it an ideal candidate for an automotive mascot, particularly for a dog-lover. As the Historic Vehicle Association says in its “For the Love of Dogs” article, “Can you think of any animal that loves cars more than a dog? Dogs love to chase cars, ride in cars, and even relieve themselves on cars. Man’s best friend, in fact, embodies many of the traits we want in our vehicles—fun, speed, faithfulness and reliability.”
The Art of the Mascot
As mascots grew in popularity, artists, sculptors, designers, and even illustrators began to inspire the creation of specific mascots and even make them themselves. The more elaborate mascots were likely reserved for special events or parades and were not meant for the everyday automobile. Some mascots were directly inspired by artists’ representations of society and social trends.
Background photo: Wise Owl, circa 1900s-1910s.
Saint George and the Dragon, circa 1920s
The legend of Saint George and the Dragon has influenced artists for centuries, including Carl Kauba. His sculpture of Saint George and the Dragon that has been repurposed as an automotive mascot is unique and shows that mascots could be, and were, true works of art.
Carl Kauba (1865-1922), also known as Carl Thenn, was a sculptor born in Vienna, Austria. Between 1895 and 1912, his intricate polychrome bronze sculptures were imported into the United States. Interestingly, Kauba’s works focused on the American West and Native Americans even though most scholars believe that he never traveled to the United States, or if he did it was only for a short time. He was inspired by the stories and accounts of others and would rely on artifacts to create his bronzes. Using various patinas on a single statue, Kauba was able to add color to his bronzes which created a unique depth to his pieces.
Many art critics believe that his portrayals of the American West and Native Americans put him in the same category as distinguished Western artists Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell.
The intricately detailed automotive mascot Saint George and the Dragon clearly shows the skill and artistic vision that Kauba was able to render using bronze. The mascot depicts a fully dressed knight with a flowing cape riding an armored horse rearing over a writhing dragon. The knight wields a sword in his right hand and holds the horse’s reins in his left. The dragon, pierced through by a lance, opens its mouth wide exposing its teeth and long tongue. With his notable skill, Kauba was able to capture the famous legend of Saint George and the dragon.
Best-known as the patron saint of England (as well as Portugal, Georgia, Lithuania, and Greece), Saint George may be one of Christianity’s most famous saints. The story of Saint George is shrouded in myth and legend making it difficult to determine true historical fact. Some scholars suggest that he never truly existed or that he is a Christianized version of an even older pagan myth. Nevertheless, the story of Saint George is a story that has been told for centuries.
In 1260, the Legenda Aurea was written by Jacobus da Varagine as a collection of the legendary stories about the lives of saints of the medieval church. Over 200 years later, in 1483, it was translated into English by William Caxton. With this English translation, Caxton’s The Golden Legend and the story of Saint George achieved mass circulation.
George is believed to have lived during the late 3rd century CE and was born in Cappadocia, current day Turkey, to Christian parents. He soon became a soldier in the Roman army and rose to the rank of Tribune. One day, he came to the city of Silene in Libya, “[a]nd by this city was a stagne or a pond like a sea, herein was a dragon which envenomed all the country.”
To prevent the dragon from harming anyone, the people of Silene gave the dragon two sheep a day to feed him. Soon this wasn’t enough, and the people of Silene started to give the dragon one person, chosen by lot, and one sheep. The lot soon fell to the king’s daughter, and even though the king begged his people for her life, she was still to be sacrificed like all of the others to the dragon.
She was taken to the dragon, and as she waited George passed by and asked her what was going on. As she told him what was happening, “the dragon appeared and came running to them, and Saint George was upon his horse, and drew out his sword and garnished him with the sign of the cross, and rode hardily against the dragon which came towards him, and smote him with his spear and hurt him sore and threw him to the ground.”
George asked the princess for her belt which he put around the dragon’s neck, and the dragon followed them to the city “as it had been a meek beast and debonair.” As they led the dragon back to the city, it terrified the people of Silene. George offered to then kill the dragon if they converted to Christianity and be baptized.
After the king consented, all 15,000 people were baptized, “and Saint George slew the dragon and smote off his head, and commanded that he should be thrown in the fields.” The king then built a church where the dragon died, and from its altar a spring flowed that was able to cure all disease.
After killing the dragon, The Golden Legend goes on to detail the martyrdom of Saint George. Saint George objected to the persecution of Christians by Emperor Diocletian and resigned from the Roman military. He was soon imprisoned and tortured, his captors trying to force him to renounce his faith. Saint George prayed and kept his faith, but he was beheaded.
Carl Kauba was able to capture the legendary story of Saint George and the Dragon in his sculpture. Through his mastery of bronze, he was able to create an exceedingly elegant and well-crafted piece of art that was turned into an automotive mascot.
Gibson Girl, circa 1910s
The Gibson Girl mascot depicts a young, statuesque, narrow-waisted feminine figure draped in a long gown with upswept hair revealing the long line of her neck. She elegantly tilts her wide-brim hat to the right as if adjusting it to block the sun. The appropriately named Gibson Girl mascot clearly references the Gibson Girl illustrations by artist Charles Dana Gibson.
Charles Dana Gibson (September 14, 1867 – December 23, 1944) was an American artist best known for his creation of the Gibson Girl illustrations. Charles was born into a wealthy New England family, and when he was a boy he would watch his father cut silhouettes. He soon began cutting silhouettes himself, and by the time he was 14 he gained an apprenticeship as a sculptor. Soon realizing his skill did not lie in three-dimensional work, he turned to pen-and-ink illustrations and cartoons.
In 1886, when Charles was 19, he sold his first illustration to Life magazine, after having been rejected by almost every other magazine company in New York. His interests and artistic focus were in portraying high society characters and poking fun at their idiosyncrasies. His assignments with Life began to increase, and he took the opportunity to study in Paris, which greatly improved his artistic skill.
With the incorporation of Charles’ first drawing in the March 25th, 1886 issue, Life saw circulation increase. It was clear that it was Charles’ drawings that were selling magazines, as his monthly salary increased from $33 to $185. Charles’ illustrations were widely known and were sought after not only for their content but due to the quality of the drawing. He was known to create his detailed drawings on a large scale, and then reduce them in size for publishing, which allowed for greater and finer detail in his works.
In 1890, Charles started drawing the Gibson Girl which not only skyrocketed his career, but also created national sensation and changed the way America viewed and thought about women. By the 1890s, women were pushing for progressive sociopolitical change and reform, and the image of women as more independent, well-read, athletic, free-spirited, working, educated and attending college took hold. But as progressive reform grew, two cultural images evolved - the New Woman and the Gibson Girl.
The New Woman and the Gibson Girl are very similar but with some stark differences in their portrayals and public perception. Unlike the New Woman, the Gibson Girl was not a suffragette and would not be found challenging politics. She was depicted as a sweeter, more docile New Woman, who had attitude but was above all beautiful and anonymous. Some scholars believe The Gibson Girl was seen as not assuming traditionally masculine roles or challenging and disrupting social order, unlike the New Woman; however, she simultaneously undermined and supported social change for women.
The popularity of the Gibson Girl grew and soon became the image of the ideal American woman. She was an upper-class woman dressed in the latest fashions, embraced the outdoors, and enjoyed singing or playing the violin. The depiction of the Gibson Girl as a tall and slender woman with a tiny waist who has her hair styled off her neck in a contemporary bouffant or chignon transformed the standard of beauty. The Gibson Girl was a marketing tool that had immense power both over the fashion industry and general society, as images of her were found on dishes, pillows, shoes, and even wallpaper.
The accurate design of the Gibson Girl automotive mascot emphasizes the popularity of Charles Dana Gibson’s illustrations and the popularity of the Gibson Girl ideal. With the start of World War I, the Gibson Girl’s popularity declined, allowing the iconic flapper image to prosper in the 1920s.
Saint Christopher with Child, circa 1920s and Saint Christopher I, circa 1890s
Saint Christopher is considered to be the patron saint of travelers and transportation, which made his depiction a popular subject for automotive mascots. He became a symbol of protection for automobile drivers, and with his well-known story has become a popular Christian saint. While there are no primary sources that reference Saint Christopher, the stories and traditions about him have continued throughout history.
One of the most popular accounts of the story of Saint Christopher comes from William Caxton’s The Golden Legend, which was a translation of Jacobus da Varagine’s Legenda Aurea (1260), a collection of the legendary lives of saints of the medieval church.
According to The Golden Legend, Saint Christopher may have been named Reprobus and was extremely tall, strong, and had a “fearsome face.” He wanted to serve the most powerful king in the world, supposedly his local king of Canaan. As Christopher was doing his duty, he saw the king cross himself at the mention of the devil.
When Christopher asked the king why he crossed himself, the king answered, “Always when I hear the devil named, I fear that he should have power over me, and I garnish me with this sign that he grieve ne annoy me.”
After learning that the king feared the devil, Christopher left the king in search of this more powerful king. Christopher then came across a group of cruel knights who called themselves the devil, and Christopher began to serve them. Later, when the group came to a cross, the man who called himself the devil avoided the cross. When Christopher questioned the man’s fear of the cross, the man said, “There was a man called Christ which was hanged on the cross, and when I see his sign I am sore afraid and flee from it wheresoever I see it.”
Christopher left the man who called himself the devil and went in search of this king called Christ. During his travels in search for Christ, Christopher met a hermit who taught him about Christianity. When Christopher asked the hermit how best to serve Christ, the hermit suggested prayer and fasting. Christopher, a large man who was more often hungry than not, objected. The hermit then suggested that Christopher help people across a nearby river where many people had died trying to cross.
Christopher began his service and using his size and strength helped many people across the river. One day, a child approached the river and asked Christopher to help him. Christopher put the child on his shoulders and began to make his way across the river. Soon, the river rose, and the child became extremely heavy. Once Christopher got the child to the other side of the river, he asked the child why he was so heavy. According to The Golden Legend, the child then explained that he was Christ, and when Christopher had carried him he was also carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. After the child vanished, Christopher began traveling and spreading the word of Christ.
He arrived in Lycia and witnessed the persecution of Christians and tried to comfort them in their martyrdom. Later, after several attempts were made on Christopher’s life, and after they failed, he was beheaded and martyred in 251 CE.
As Saint Christopher’s story spread over time, many versions of Saint Christopher were created for automotive mascots such as Saint Christopher with Child, circa 1920s.
Another example of Saint Christopher as a mascot was created in the 1890s by Charles Sykes for Lord Montagu of Beaulieu for his 1899 Daimler.
Charles Robinson Sykes (December 18, 1875 – June 6, 1950) was the English sculptor who is also known for his subsequent design of the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot for Rolls-Royce.
Lord Montagu, also known as John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, Second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, was a British politician. With his love for motorsports and motorcars, he was possibly the first to drive a gasoline-powered vehicle into the House of Commons yard.
The Saint Christopher I mascot Sykes made for Lord Montagu depicts Saint Christopher as a bearded monk-like figure in a long-hooded robe, with his left hand shading his eyes and his right hand holding the top of a staff. Possibly depicting Saint Christopher as he traveled spreading the word of Christ and Christianity.
To this day, Saint Christopher is thought to protect motorists. Many modern drivers will have a Saint Christopher coin, charm, or even statuette in their car in the hopes he will look over them.
Automotive mascots, whether they were trinkets, toys, or finely crafted sculpture, adorned cars of all types throughout the early 1900s. While some were silly or witty, others were serious and thought-provoking, yet all of them allowed drivers and companies to truly express themselves.
“More than just shiny objects added to the vehicle, they are thoughtfully created to express personality and emotion. They are created by skilled artists, with attention to the smallest details and highest excellence.” - Teckla Rhoads, Executive Director of Global Industrial Design at General Motors, Automotive Jewelry Volume One: Mascots, Badges.