The Purdue University seal has evolved over the years, and upon close observation, the history of the University is reflected in this evolution. The first Purdue University seal was designed by Bruce Rogers in 1890, and there have been nine significant changes over the years. The present three part shield, designed by Al Gowan in 1968, reflects Purdue’s three permanent aims of the university: education, research, and service.
In today’s information age, people are constantly bombarded with many visual images and messages. The seal provides a strong visual identity that is recognized instantly and positively by key audiences around the world. Many alumni take pride in Purdue’s seal, and instant memories and emotions are evoked when the seal is seen on various documents and memorabilia.
Today the official university seal is used only for formal and official communications such as diplomas, letters of acceptance and communication from the Board of Trustees and the University president.
The following provides a look at how the seal evolved and those who took part in its design.
1890, First Design
Bruce Rogers designed the first Purdue seal for the cover of the Annual Register of 1890-91. Rogers was a Purdue undergraduate student at the time. His design emphasized the curriculum offered at the University. His inexperience is evident by the fact that the design was unsuitable for the letterpress printing process of the day. The design was never officially adopted by the University.
1894, Second Design
Bruce Rogers also drew the second Purdue seal, which first appeared on the cover of the Exponent’s October 1 issue of 1894. This design remained loyal to the original concept but was better suited for reproduction. However, he added a caduceus to represent the new School of Pharmacy, which created a problem of too many symbols. By this time Rogers had graduated from Purdue, and in 1895 he moved to Boston.
1895, Third Design, Introduction of the Griffin Abby Phelps Lytle was asked by the University administration to design the third seal while head of the art department at Purdue. She introduced the slanted shield, Uncial lettering and the winged griffin. This design was used for nearly fifteen years. The intricate design, though aesthetically pleasing, was difficult to clearly reproduce.
1905, Fourth Design This fourth design was probably a study attempted by some engineering students. It is actually a bronze casting and is not suitable for reproduction. The image printed here is a graphic rendering of the three-dimensional piece. The image appears on the cover of a photo album of campus buildings from around that time period. It may have been a stimulus for the Benjamin design which came a few years later.
1909, Fifth design
Charles H. Benjamin, Dean of Engineering, designed the fifth Purdue seal. This design first appeared in the Purdue University Catalogue of 1909-10. The University wanted the Lytle design simplified and selected Benjamin, who was considered to be an artist as well as an engineer, to do the job. He worked from a sketch by Mrs. Marion Woodbury, the daughter of the Dean. The shield was reduced in size and the symbols reduced to three. The griffin now held a Roman lamp of learning. The design was used for the next sixty years.
1924, A Variation
This variation, the sixth design, appeared in the Semi-Centennial Alumni Record of 1924. It was probably intended to present a more printable piece, which it does. The variation separates the griffin, the shield, and the banner from their positions on the Benjamin version. In doing so, the continuity of the images is lost. This design has appeared in Memorial Union publications from time to time. The designer is unknown.
1947, Seventh design
The seventh design was by Bruce Rogers. His suggestion for this design to the new university president, Fredrick L. Hovde, was never considered. Though Rogers’ seal designs did not meet with approval, his career was internationally distinguished by his work in type and book design. Many of his original works can be found in Archives and Special Collections at Purdue.
1947, Eighth Design
The eighth design, commissioned by Robert W. Babcock, was an attempt to simplify the Rogers design. Babcock was the editor of Campus Copy, auniversity publication. He printed the commissioned work along with the Rogers and Benjamin designs in the March 1947 issue of the Campus Copy to elicit faculty opinion. In the end the University continued using the Benjamin seal.
1968, Ninth & Current Design
Al Gowan was an Assistant Professor of the then new School of Creative Arts when he received a grant to develop a new University seal. His research resulted in a more stylized design. He redefined the seal’s concept, yet maintained a faithfulness to the calligraphic style of the Lytle seal of 1895. Rather than defining the curriculum, which is subject to change, Gowan felt the seal should represent the three permanent aims of the university: education, research, and service.
MSP 119, Collection on the Purdue University seal, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries
MSF 474, Albert J. Gowan papers, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries
Horoho, M. (1993). Purdue Crest: a visual history. Valparaiso, IN: Sandlin’s Books & Bindery