History of the NPS Arrowhead

NPS Arrowhead
NPS Arrowhead


What do all the components of the NPS Arrowhead mean?
Although never officially spelled out, the logo’s elements have consistently been recognized as symbolizing the many facets of the National Park System: Sequoia tree and bison for vegetation and wildlife; mountains and water for scenery and recreation; and the arrowhead shape itself for history,culture and archeology.

1916: The first logo appeared around the time the National Park Service was established in 1916. Featuring a sequoia cone and branches within a circle, it was used sporadically until the mid-20th century but never formally recognized as the NPS logo. It remains uncredited as to who developed it and it seems to have appeared here and there with no formal guidance or explanation.

1949: NPS landscape architect Dudley Bayliss won $50 in a service wide contest for his design using “N.P.S.” to form a mountain range. This design was known as the road badge but was never put into service because shortly after the competition ended, National Park Service historian Aubrey Neasham casually discussed the winning logo with Director Newton Drury, suggesting the service instead needed an emblem that expressed its primary function, “… like an arrowhead, or a tree, or a buffalo.”He provided a sketch of an elongated arrowhead and pine tree, along with a note to Drury that said, in part, “This may be the germ of an idea for a NPS emblem … a good artist may do something with it.”

1951: New National Park Service Director Conrad Wirth turned this concept over to Herbert Maier, who was the architect that made “parkitecture” or the rustic style of NPS architecture an identity for the parks. Maier was now assistant director of the Pacific West Region. He and his staff brought Neasham’s design to life. It was formally authorized by Secretary of the Interior Oscar L. Chapman on July 20, 1951, placed into service beginning in 1952, and slightly revised in 1954. The addition was finer details and the scalloped edging around the outer contour of the arrowhead design. The Arrowhead first appeared in 1952 as a plaque at a National Park Service conference and in the brochure for Oregon Caves National Monument. It began to be used as a patch on the uniform in 1955 and became mandatory soon thereafter.

1962: The Arrowhead trademark was officially designated as the symbol of the National Park Service. It was registered with the US Patent Office on February 9, 1965 and later given additional protection under the Trademark Act.

1969: Influenced by the Mission 66 era of modern architecture, NPS unveiled a minimalist logo for an exhibit called Parkscape to celebrate the agency’s 50th anniversary. Originally intended only for the exhibition, Park Service Director George B. Hartzog expanded the effort and pushed an initiative called Parkscape U.S.A. that included a plan to upgrade and modernize the image of the National Park Service. In a memo to the service on January 3, 1967, he announced that Parkscape U.S.A. consisted of three basic elements—“a program; a name; a symbol.”Designed by Chermayeff & Geismar Associates, the logo had three triangles, which represented mountains and trees, encasing three circles that were meant to symbolize conservation. It was tied to a similar design for the Department of the Interior and these trademarks were intended to phase out the NPS Arrowhead and DOI buffalo seal.

1970: Recall that the final registration of the Arrowhead as the NPS servicemark had occurred in February 1965. The new tentative Department of the Interior - National Park Service logo featured a stylized pair of hands holding a circle (sun) over two large triangles (mountains), which in turn were placed over nine smaller triangles that were meant to symbolize water. What became known as the “triangles and cannonballs” design was rejected by employees in the field with criticism that rangers would look like “Trekkies” from the television series, Star Trek. At this time, the park service reverted back to the 1951 original arrowhead design.

2001: Next to the creation of Harpers Ferry Center itself and the development of the Unigrid brochure design system, one of the most influential additions to the National Park Service visual identity was Communicating the National Park Service Mission, also known as the Message Project. It established a national sign program as part of a clear communications strategy. It provided the field with a flood of new tools that accommodated advancements in print, web, and sign technology. This also led to clear management of the NPS Arrowhead, and put Harpers Ferry Center squarely in the lead of the National Park Service graphic design standards.

2014 - Today: There have been a few modifications in the details of the mountains, tree and buffalo, as well as a shaded relief version used for NPS publications. (see photo at top)

National Park Service: Badges and Uniform Ornamentation website

NPS emblem 1949
NPS emblem 1949

For more History about the National Park Service, visit the Harpers Ferry Center website:

NPS History Collection - Harpers Ferry Center (U.S. National Park Service)

Last updated: May 13, 2022

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