Political Animal: The Ever-Evolving Republican Elephant Logo
Article by Steve, filed under Graphics & Branding in the Design category.


In November of 2010 the Republican Party pulled off the most lopsided midterm elections victory in a generation or more; really something to trumpet about! Speaking of which, the use of an elephant to symbolize the GOP is also worth celebrating since this particular political animal first made an appearance on November 7th, 1874. Let’s take this opportunity to look back at the birthday boy in all his old (and new) glory.

(images via: St. Nicholas Center, AndrewJohnson.com, SoftSpot Blog and Virginia Western Community College)

The so-called Republican Elephant made its debut in the November 7, 1874 edition of Harper’s Weekly (1857-1916) and was the creation of Thomas Nast, a renowned political cartoonist. Nast had made a name for himself by caricaturing notoriously corrupt William “Boss” Tweed and Tammany Hall in the run-up to Tweed’s 1873 arrest on fraud charges. Nast is also recognized as the first illustrator to depict a fat Santa Claus – previously St. Nick was shown as a tall thin geezer.

(images via: Mental Floss, Getty Images and AfroCity)

The fact that Thomas Nast was a staunch Republican may have had more than a little to do with his selection of a bull elephant to represent the GOP while gleefully harnessing a donkey (actually a “jackass”, in the terms of the times) to depict the Democrats – a practice that went back to President Andrew Jackson’s era. Nast was hardly above chiding his political bedfellows, however, as the November 7 cartoon above shows a panicked elephant labeled “The Republican Vote” stampeding away from a brazen Democratic Donkey wearing a lion’s skin – a sheep in wolf’s clothing, as it were.

(images via: Abundance Secrets, America First Books and National Archives)

By the mid-1870s, the elephant had become the poster child (literally) for the Republican Party and, as needed, GOP politicians such as Benjamin Harrison. The image above right shows Harrison, in the form of an elephant, “broken loose” and running away with the 1888 Republican presidential nomination. Decades later, as the Roaring Twenties swung into gear, cartoonists like Clifford Berryman used the Republican Elephant to enlighten (and en-laughen) the wheelings and dealings in smoke-filled rooms that characterized the nomination process.

(images via: Public Domain Clip Art, Army Wife and Ellen Rixford)

Whether depicted as actual animals or as anthropomorphic representations, the Republican Elephant and its Democratic Donkey counterpart were firmly established in American pop culture at mid-century. The stage was set for the next stage in evolution as political discourse moved from cloistered backrooms to America’s living rooms.

(images via: NCA and The Conservative Reader)

Fast-forward to the age of television and we find the Republican Elephant slimmed down (somewhat), standardized and stylized – copyrighted, even – in a simple suit of red, white & blue (from the bottom up). A trio of white stars feature prominently in the blue field, as in the American flag. In contrast, the Democratic Donkey usually has 4 stars in its comparable blue upper field though it’s not unusual to observe variations with 1 or 3 stars.

(images via: Canton Truth, Amazon.com, Frog Style Biscuit and Ban T-Shirts)

A curious point in the Republican Elephant’s evolution occurred in the (presidential election) year 2000, just prior to the first year of George W. Bush’s administration. With virtually no notice and little if any subsequent explanation, the 3 stars in the GOP Elephant logo were inverted so that they now stood points down. The law concerning “Respect For The Flag”, US Code Title 4 Section 8(a), reads “The flag should never be displayed with the union (the stars represent the union of the states) down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

(image via: Bob-a-job-alog-a-roonie)

The GOP logo is hardly a flag, though it outwardly and consciously apes one – and by the way, the Democratic Donkey still wears its stars points-up… just sayin’. And just askin’: Hillary WTF??

(images via: Adult Party Pinatas, Sodahead and RepublicanElephant.com)

Certain political bloggers and conspiracy theorists have had a field day with the so-called “satanic” new logo that seemingly swapped its stars for devilish pentagrams. Does the Tea Party know about this? Maybe the RNC is in league with the Prince Of Darkness – the other one, not Dick Cheney. Most likely, though, the decision to flip the stars and otherwise adjust the proportions of the classic GOP logo were made ad hoc by the graphics firm charged with the task of making the logo more digital-friendly. Sure, that’s what happened, move along now, nothing to see here.

(images via: Cafe Press, Taylor Made Tees, RepublicanEnvironment.com and Notcot)

Like sports logos, the Republican Elephant logo has been tweaked, tinted and co-opted to lend a certain presence to non-political causes of all kinds. It’s also been made kid-friendly and gender-neutral, much in the same way that pink (or other color) baseball hats have gained in popularity in recent years.

(images via: This Next, About.com, Wikiality, Cafe Press, The Conservative Reader and Libertarian Party of Colorado)

Of course, using an animal to brand a political party naturally invites manipulation by those who are opposed to what the symbol stands for. As such, the GOP Elephant has taken its share of graphic hard knocks. Perhaps more than its share. Or maybe less. Depends who you ask.

(images via: Flow14, BrandlandUSA™ Blog, Black and Red and Groton Republican Town Committee)

What does the future hold for the Republican Elephant logo? Will future generations for whom living elephants are a thing of the past wonder what that strange beast is, and why it always votes Republican?

(images via: Listicles)

Having an extinct creature as one’s logo doesn’t exactly inspire confidence – no one wants to vote in dinosaurs, for example – so if the GOP decides to stick with the elephant over its dead body, we can probably expect some lively reinterpretations similar to those shown above.

(image via: BuzzFeed)(image via: BuzzFeed)

Then there’s the suggestion above, but methinks the presenter might be just a tad biased.

(images via: CtW Connect, Cake Creations by Julia, LaChoclatier Bakery and CakeCentral.com)

I suppose it’s too much to expect we all can have our GOP Elephant cakes and eat them too… oh, wait. Yes indeed, GOP logo cakes are big business – which somehow makes perfect sense. Plus, as anyone knows, an elephant pie is WAY tastier than a cow pie. Or so I’ve heard.

(images via: Next Nature)

Some may wonder why it is that only elephants and donkeys tussle over the electoral pie election after election. The folks behind More Party Animals have the answer, sort of… the patriotic organism logos above give anyone wanting to start their own party a pre-designed political animal to get them off on the right foot… hoof… tentacle… whatever.

(images via: LIFE and DayLife)

Until that far-off day when moose lock horns with sea urchins (that’s gotta hurt!), the elephant will march on as the symbol of the Grand Old Party and will continue to battle the Democratic Donkey for American political supremacy.

(image via: Newsweek)

So go ahead, wear your chosen political animal over your heart, on your sleeve, or even on a fashionable scarf… just be sure you match the right animal with the right party… right Sarah?

(images via: Brand New, GOP.com and Organizing For America)

What the future holds for the currently resurgent Republican Party is anyone’s guess. The elephant’s place in party symbolism, on the other hand, is pretty much unshakable though it will continue to evolve to suit the times. The “Gazelephant” at above top, the brand new all-red official GOP logo and the eyebrow-raising mashup graphic announcing “Republicans For Obama” (wait, what?) demonstrate convincingly that the old beast still has a few tricks up his trunk. Thomas Nast would certainly approve!

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