The Pittsburgh Steelers have not always been the Steelers. Originally founded as the Pittsburgh Pirates by Arthur (Art) Joseph Rooney on July 8, 1933, the Steelers changed their name in 1940 in an attempt to generate some fan support and involvement. Fans were encouraged to send their suggestions to the team; several nominated the winning name Steelers to reflect the city’s primary source of employment, winning season tickets for their suggestion.
The famous three-star Pittsburgh Steelers logo was a bit longer in coming, however. Helmet logos first became popular in 1948 when the Los Angeles Rams became the first team to use an insignia or logo on its helmet. Rams player, Fred Gehrke, was also an artist and spent all of his free time that season hand-painting the distinctive Ram horns on 70 leather helmets. The next year, Riddell, manufacturer of the famous plastic football helmet still in use today, agreed to bake the design into the helmet, prompting other teams to gradually add logos of their own. The Steelers’ only concession to the new logo craze, however, was to add the players’ numbers and a black stripe to their distinctive gold helmets.
In 1962, Republic Steel of Cleveland approached the Steelers and suggested that they consider the Steelmark, the insignia used by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), as a helmet logo to honor Pittsburgh’s steel heritage. The Steelmark logo, a circle enclosing three hypocycloids (diamonds with inward-curving edges) and the word STEEL, was created by U.S. Steel Corp. (now known as USX Corp.) to educate consumers about the importance of steel in their daily lives.
The colors were chosen to promote the attributes for steel: yellow lightens your work; orange brightens your leisure; and blue widens your world. The logo’s meaning was later amended to represent the three materials used to produce steel: yellow for coal; orange for iron ore; and blue for steel scrap.
The Steelers liked the idea presented by Republic Steel, despite the fact that the company was located in the city of their bitterest rival, the Cleveland Browns, and proudly sported the new logo on their helmets for the 1962 season. After qualifying that year for their first-ever postseason game, they changed the color of their helmets from gold to solid black, which also served to highlight the new logo they felt had brought them good luck.
The new Steelmark logo was originally only applied to one side of the helmet (the right side) by equipment manager Jack Hart because the Steelers were uncertain how it would look on their solid gold helmets. Even when they later switched their helmet color to solid black, they decided to permanently retain the logo on just the one side due to the team’s new success and the interest generated by the logo’s uniqueness. The Steelers are now the only team in the NFL to sport its logo on only one side of the helmet.
One last change occurred to the logo in 1963 when the Steelers petitioned the AISI to allow them to change the word ‘Steel’ inside the Steelmark to ‘Steelers.’ The Steelers later added the gold stripe and player numbers and changed the face masks from grey to black, but otherwise the helmet has remained virtually unchanged since 1963.
The interest generated by having the logo on only one side of their helmets along with the team’s new success (they were 9-5 after many years of losing seasons), the Steelers decided to leave the helmet that way permanently. The Steelers logo hasn’t changed since, fitting for a football team that values consistency and tradition.