Pittsburgh Steelers and the Steelmark

Pittsburgh SteelersThough I no longer follow professional or college sports, which I think is often as thoroughly bankrupt or corrupt as American culture, next week’s Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers conjures the heyday of the National Football League (NFL). I remember reading about admirable players such as Johnny Unitas and the Packers’ Bart Starr, both valued for their intelligence and integrity, during my youth, watching the Packers play in those brutal Wisconsin winters and feeling the Packers fan pride during visits to America’s Dairyland. Of course, being from Pittsburgh, I always cheered for the Steelers (and Panthers, Penguins, and Pirates). I used to wait outside hotel lobbies for a sight of the Steelers when they came to play near my town, and I remember Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, and Lynn Swann as kind athletes who graciously signed autographs and answered my countless questions. Andy Russell, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount, John Stallworth, Frenchy Fuqua, Roy Gerela, Jack Ham, Rocky Bleier, I met nearly all of those Steelers of the 1970s. Mean Joe Greene seemed just like he did on the Coke commercial. They were my heroes.

One of my first heroes was the original Pittsburgh Steeler, Andrew Carnegie. He created U.S. Steel, whose diamond-shaped design is emblazoned on the helmets of the Pittsburgh Steelers, America’s only major football team with a capitalist logo, when he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901. The Steelers’ diamond-shaped logo, composed of three hypocycloids, is known as the Steelmark. Cleveland, Ohio-based Republic Steel suggested that the Steelers use the logo, an industrial trademark by then, on their helmets in 1962.

According to the Steelers’ history of the symbol, the logo was intended to convey that steel lightens your work, brightens your leisure and widens your world and that steel is important in our daily lives. During the 1970s, the logo’s meaning was extended to include the three materials used to produce steel: yellow for coal, orange for ore and blue for steel scrap. Appropriate to an American symbol of productiveness that would not be possible without property rights, the Steelers had to seek and gain permission from the American Iron and Steel Institute to change the word “Steel” to “Steelers”. The Steelmark was created by U.S. Steel (now known as USX Corp), the world’s first billion-dollar corporation, in a deal which made Andrew Carnegie the world’s richest man. The Steelmark, a symbol of mankind’s most productive period in history, is one of America’s last iconic images (Ford Motor Company’s signature logo also comes to mind) of capitalism, the nearly bygone era.

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