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What is an emblem?
Rickenbacker Motor Company radiator emblem
Hupmobile radiator emblem
Auburn Automobile Company radiator emblem
Roosevelt radiator emblem
Enger Motor Car Company radiator emblem

How do you represent an automobile manufacturer in a few inches? How do you represent trends in automobile manufacturing in 12 square feet? What is a radiator emblem and how can it be used in an exhibit?

Radiator emblems were colorful metal plates with a manufacturer’s name or logo that attached to the radiators of early automobiles. Varying in shape and size, but never more than a few inches across, the emblems were small branding devices.

Reo radiator emblem
Hudson Motor Car Compnay radiator emblem

As vehicles became more popular in a national market, people began associating the company name and logo on different vehicle models with a specific manufacturer. Radiator emblems indicated the type of engine and place of manufacturing. They also appealed to drivers’ sense of style and class by using iconic images and a few words.

This tour divides the Smithsonian’s collection of 278 radiator emblems into different groupings to demonstrate how similar objects can be interpreted to emphasize certain themes and relationships. Browse the collection of emblems. If you were a curator, how would you display them?
Empire Auto Company radiator emblem
Chevrolet radiator emblem
Olds Motor Works radiator emblem
Chrysler radiator emblem
Ford radiator emblem
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