The New Haven Railroad
Design: Herbert Matter (USA)
The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company, commonly known as the New Haven Railroad, operated in the states of Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts from 1872 to 1968. The company operated freight and passenger trains over a Boston – New York City main line and a number of branch lines. In its heyday, the New Haven was generally considered the largest and most important transportation enterprise in New England.
With the arrival of new president Patrick McGinnis in 1954, Herbert Matter, the Swiss émigré designer and poster artist, was commissioned to create a corporate identity for the railroad. In line with many other large American Corporations (e.g. IBM and Westinghouse) The New Haven was endowed with an international Modernist aesthetic. Matter replaced the railroad’s unfocused and highly ornate script wordmark (which had existed since 1891) with an eloquent logo composed of its initials ‘NH’. The stacked elongated slab serif letterforms aptly evoke a rail-network, connection-points or rail tracks. Over the next two years, Matter and his associate Norman Ives moulded a comprehensive visual identity for New Haven – a prodigious amount covering brochures, adverts, timetables and the famous train livery of black, red and white.
As with most of Matter’s work, the NH logo is as compelling now as it was back in the 1950s. The great Paul Rand, when celebrating Matter’s oeuvre, once said: “His work of ’32 could have been done in ’72 or even ’82. It has that timeless, unerring quality one recognises instinctively. It speaks to all tongues, with one tongue. It is uncomplicated, to the point, familiar, and yet unexpected.”
However, by 1960, the New Haven Railroad was approaching insolvency and the company filed for bankruptcy a year later. After a decade of struggling along under various trustees, the New Haven Railroad was absorbed by the ill-fated Penn Central Transportation Company in 1968. The NH symbol, which had become one of the most identifiable symbols in America, had hit the buffers.
In a strange twist of fate, the classic NH logo was revived, and lives on as heritage livery for a different railroad company, the New Haven line of MetroNorth Commuter Railroad (MNCRR).