Cindy Maragos asks Abe: “Has the Wisconsin athletic letter (‘W’) always been the same style as it is today? Go Bucky!”
While we’ve always been fond of the letter W here at the University of Wisconsin, we haven’t always been consistent with our typeface. I assume you’re referring to the Motion W, the letter that appears on the sides of football helmets. That particular graphological innovation was created in 1990 by Rick Suchanek, an artist who worked for Rayovac. Suchanek had submitted it (among more than a dozen designs) to then-football-coach Barry Alvarez, who wanted his team to have a new logo to inspire a new tradition of winning. The Athletic Department purchased the rights to the Motion W, and it first appeared on helmets in 1991. Its use has since spread to other sports.
Prior to that, the UW’s football helmets had a similar design (see the model at right), but the W was a simpler, blocky character — similar to what you might find in a font like Superstar
. That letter put the W in UW through most of the 1980s.
Before that, the block W had a little bit of an outward curve, and it was set within a red oval — a design perhaps inspired by the New York Jets logo. In the very early 1970s, the Badgers wore red helmets with a Bucky stencil, and in the 1960s, the team’s W was simple and sans serif, rather like the capital W in the font Futura or Helvetica. Instead of putting that letter on the left and right sides of the helmets, however, the Badgers of that era — the ones who went to Rose Bowls in 1960 and 1963 — wore their W fore and aft. In the 1950s and earlier, the helmets were unadorned.
Buckingham U. Badger, by the way, wore a sans serif W on his sweater from 1940 (when the Bucky logo was designed by California commercial artist Art Evans) until 2003. With this letter, he could face either left or right. When the university decided to update Bucky with the Motion W, he looked much better when he faced to his left. You'll almost always see him facing this direction today.