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.

A side view of a replica of Tutankhamun's chariot with sun-crested falcon.<br />

A side view of a replica of Tutankhamun's chariot with sun-crested falcon, from Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Iron Age horse-harness fittings from Sudbrooke, Lincolnshire<br />

Iron Age horse-harness fittings from Sudbrooke, Lincolnshire, from Wikimedia Commons.

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.

1920s Mercer<br />

1920s Mercer with Spirit of Ecstasy mascot.

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.

Spirit of Ecstasy on 1914  Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost<br />

Spirit of Ecstasy on 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost.

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. 

The Autocar, issue 38, January 17, 1920<br />

The Autocar, issue 38, January 17, 1920.

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.

The assembly plant of the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Wheatfield, New York (directly East of Niagara Falls, USA)<br />

The assembly plant of the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Wheatfield, New York (directly East of Niagara Falls, USA), from Wikimedia Commons.

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.

History of Automotive Mascots