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Design: Sandgren & Murtha (USA)


Transamerica Corporation was founded by A.P. Giannini in 1928, with the idea that he would invest in and serve the often overlooked small businesses and farmers in his community. By the 1960s, Transamerica had ballooned into a $12 billion conglomerate with diverse interests in air travel, entertainment, insurance, finance, manufacturing and transportation.


For many years, Transamerica followed a brand-dominant approach in which the relationships between the subsidiaries and the parent were deemphasised. In the late 1960s, company executives decided to take advantage of the synergies that a unified corporate identity could render. As part of the implementation program, Transamerica adopted the ‘T’ logo as a unifying symbol to connect its vast business empire.

The flowing, bifurcated T symbol was created by Don Ervin, whilst at the design partnership of Sandgren & Murtha. Ervin is regarded as a prolific and unheralded graphic designer who played an integral role in shaping the image of corporate America. In fact, his logos, for some of America’s biggest companies such as Conoco, Cargill and MetLife, are better known than the man himself.

With the Transamerica T, Ervin displayed the modernist philosophy of less is more; devising a form that is both elegant and evocative. The logo communicates myriad meanings (such as bold, dynamic, expansive growth) and was a highly effective encapsulation of Transamerica’s multifaceted holdings. Although Ervin let his work speak for itself, he did write a notable manifesto that outlined excellence in logo design. The Transamerica T ticks much of this criteria, that lists amongst others: “It should be simple enough to be memorable. It should be long lasting and not out of date ten years from now.”

Outside the United States, the T symbol was best known as the emblem of United Artists film studio. Many classic films – such as Apocalypse Now, Rocky, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Carrie – were introduced with an animated version of the logo, and the tagline “Entertainment from the Transamerica Corporation.”

In 1989, Transamerica adopted a new logo: a stylised illustration of its iconic San Francisco headquarters, a sleek white pyramid. The rebrand signalled its metamorphosis from a fully diversified global conglomerate to a business specialising in insurance and other financial services.

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