CP’s magnificent multimark turns 50

Posted by Justin Franz
on Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A CP Rail SD40-2 with a multimark at Yahk, British Columbia. Photo by Justin Franz.
If the last decade or so has proved anything in the world of railroad paint schemes, it’s this: What’s old is new again. Nearly every Class 1 railroad in North America has adopted a corporate image that includes some sort of nod to its past. BNSF Railway’s orange and black is a clear nod to predecessor Great Northern; CSX’s contemporary blue and yellow is clearly inspired by the Baltimore & Ohio and Chesapeake & Ohio; Kansas City Southern adopted its famous “Southern Belle” livery for its modern locomotives a decade ago; and Norfolk Southern — long known for its spartan black and white — outdid everyone with 20 locomotives decked out in bright and flashy tributes to its predecessors.

Just last year, another company joined the ranks of railroads with paint-based tributes to the past when Canadian Pacific announced it was bringing back its gold beaver logo. At the time, CEO Keith Creel said, “the time is right to re-connect with our past by bringing back this iconic symbol for Canada, and for CP." The gold beaver shield was first applied to locomotives between 1997 and 2007, but its roots go back to 1886. For nearly eight decades, CP locomotives, rolling stock, and timetables featured a beaver standing atop a spade-shaped shield.

There is no denying how iconic the beaver logo is — an image that is synonymous with both the CP and the country it serves.

But for my money, the most interesting CP logo was the “multimark,” also known as the “pacman” to railroad enthusiasts. The multimark was born of the 1960s when many railroads were looking to shed old and stuffy images in favor of a more modern, a forward-thinking persona. In the 1950s, the New Haven replaced its drab olive green and yellow with the unforgettable red, white, and black, spearheaded by the railroad’s new president, Patrick McGinnis. In 1960, the Canadian National introduced the “wet noodle” logo.

In 1967, CP President Ian D. Sinclair hired New York-based marketing firm Lippincott & Margulies to reevaluate the railroad’s image. The firm was no stranger to big rebranding efforts, having created such iconic images as the Campbell Soup Company’s red-and-white can and the General MIlls, Inc. “G.” After a year of work, Lippincott & Margulies came up with the multimark. The logo featured a triangle to convey a company moving forward; a square to imply stability and a semi-circle to represent a global reach. The multimark was also applied to CP’s other business operations, including its airline, hotels, and telecommunications branch. Kevin J. Holland wrote in Classic Trains in 2010 that the “new corporate identity (was) radically progressive for the 87-year-old conglomerate but perfectly in step with the times.”

The multimark lasted less than 20 years. The railroad stopped using the logo in 1987 when “changes within the Canadian Pacific transportation group had lessened the effectiveness of the multimark,” according to a history published by the railroad. However, the italicized sans serif typeface associated with the multimark lasted into the 1990s. Although the italicized “CP Rail” lettering was finally replaced in 1997 with a new typeface, elements of the Lippincott & Margulies redesign still remain today, specifically in the font the railroad uses for its locomotive numbers.

Exactly 50 years after the multimark was created, only a handful of CP locomotives still wear the logo. I had the good fortune of seeing two of them just a few weeks ago working a ballast train in southeast British Columbia. Although the old SD40-2s were worn, their black-and-white multimark still proudly projected that bold image of the 1960s.

While paint and logos do not directly pay the bills or add to a railroad’s bottom line, there is something to be said for the benefits of putting forth a memorable image to the public. CP’s multimark helped rebrand the storied Canadian institution as a forward-thinking company with a truly global-reach.

What’s old is new again and just as the beaver has returned, maybe we have not seen the last of that “radically progressive” multimark.

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