Wellcome
‘Unicorn’

1908–1995

Design: Unknown

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Wellcome, originally ‘The Burroughs Wellcome & Co.’, was founded in 1880 in London by two American pharmacists, Silas Burroughs and Henry Wellcome. Almost overnight, their business was a huge success as they exploited the potential in developing and marketing compressed pharma-ceutical products, (registered by the trademark ‘Tabloid’), which were new to Europe.

To keep pace with the rapid growth in advertising at the turn of the 20th century, Burroughs Wellcome registered a stylised illustration of a unicorn as its trademark in 1908. The mythical creature, captured in an elegant trotting pose, can be classified as a metaphoric mark. Ever since medieval times, the unicorn was inextricably linked with the power to heal and cure; as its horn was believed to purify anything it touched.

By the 1950s, the motif was simplified to a silhouette. Further stylistic changes were made in 1968, when the Unicorn was streamlined and locked together with a neutral sans-serif wordmark. Down the years, the distinctive blue Unicorn was central to Wellcome’s brand image. It trotted gracefully across a variety of popular home remedies such as Kemadrin, Zovirax and Calpol. Spanning generations, the Unicorn became a beacon of comfort and reliance. 

However, by the 1990s, a merger frenzy in the pharmaceutical industry took place. With rising research and development costs, drug companies realised that they were unable to go it alone. In 1995, rival company Glaxo took over Wellcome for £9 billion, to create the imaginatively titled ‘GlaxoWellcome’. As the biggest merger in UK corporate history, the new concern unified under a new wordmark, and the universally-recognised Unicorn was forced into extinction.

In 2000, the Wellcome name, once deemed sacrosanct in the history of pharmacy, disappeared from the drug business altogether when GlaxoWellcome merged with Smith-Kline Beecham, to form the moniker ‘GlaxoSmithKline’ (GSK). In fact, many other medical household names and their venerable logos simply vanished during this period – hidden or dissolved in mergers and acquisitions.

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