Travelling into the future
Allan Fleming's 1960 logo for Canadian National Railway.
The formation of the Canadian National Railways (CN) dates back to 1923 when the Canadian government merged a number of bankrupt railroads to form one large rail network, with Canadian Pacific as its only national competitor. By the mid-century, however, shortsighted management had led to unprofitability. To correct this, CN went ahead with a programme of substantial modernisation. Steam was replaced with diesel, computer controlled systems were installed, the freight fleet was restored, equipment upgraded and its organisational structure revised.
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Despite this extensive programme, a public attitude study involving in-depth interviews with 4,000 adults initiated by CN’s Public Relations Department suggested that the improvements were going unnoticed. Canadians still looked on the railway as old-fashioned and appearing the same as it did prior to modernisation.
With this realisation in mind, the head of CN public relations Dick Wright and assistant Charles Harris (who would later replace Wright), suggested that the corporation revitalise its image in a way that would outwardly express the progressive and modern enterprise it had spent the 1950s working on becoming. This was seen, at this early stage, as a straightforward project to develop new logo, with Wright seeking the outside expertise of New York designer Jim Valkus to oversee it. "You don't want a trademark program - you want a corporate design program” was Valkus’ suggestion, put forward in a four-page brief on the areas he intended to cover and the approach he would take.