Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Have you ever found yourself half-drunk and impatiently waiting for your cash to spew out of an ATM and wondered about this wacky little symbol here?? It's okay... Mulberry Bend has.

This story begins in 1799 amidst the bitter rivalry of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Following a cholera outbreak in the then fledgling New York City, Burr won a crucial contract to drain fresh water ponds on Manhattan Island in order to supply fresh water to its inhabitants. This led him to found the Manhattan Company.

Hamilton had established the first corporate bank in New York, Bank of New York, in 1784 and enjoyed many years of fat profits without any competition. This irked Burr so much that he insisted that his newly established Manhattan Company obtain a clause in its charter that would allow it to become a bank, adding another layer to their fierce rivalry ... and we all know how that ended.

A. Burr - one hell of a model American !

Burr laid pipe all over Manhattan... literally. Always the cost-cutter, he hollowed out pine logs to carry the water to where it needed to go. Ultimately, Burr did a terrible job draining the water from Manhattan which led to awful public health and structural problems down the line but that's a different story. Have a look at his handy work:

See where this is headed?? Over the centuries the Manhattan Bank went thru several mergers and in 1930 John D. Rockefeller Jr. threw his hat in the ring and the bank became the largest in the nation. In the 1960's the bank decided that they needed a graphic logo - pretty revolutionary at the time - so they hired Chermayeff & Geismar Associates to whip something up.

They wanted something that would suggest security, organization, protection, equality, etc. but the designers also thought that they could make their clients happy by taking note of the venerated history of the bank which dated back to 1799. So they used Burr's old pine logs as the inspiration for the abstract image that would go on to become one of the most genre-defining corporate logos of the age.

To this day workers will occasionally unearth hollow pine logs during excavations like this one at Coenties Slip. It seems as though the ubiquity of the Burr's pine logs translates nicely to the evil corporate omnipresence of Chase logos in our fair city today.

Oh Burr, you always get the last laugh!



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