American Express Logo History

Posted by CreditCardGuru

Q: What’s the story behind the man’s head that American Express uses as a logo and when did the evolution to the blue and white logo come about?

american express logo blue and whiteA: There is a great deal of mis-information out there about the logo of the man’s head. In fact, if you do a search for “American Express logo” you will see several authority websites dedicated to logos… yet they all have the history wrong when it comes this!

Is it a Viking or a Gladiator?

Despite what other sources claim, the man portrayed in the logo is definitely not a Viking. The original trademark registration, filed in 1958, describes the design as a “gladiator on a shield.” The confusion may have resulted from those who (a) incorrectly assumed it was a Viking, or (b) misinterpreted one of the “design search codes” listed on the original trademark application:

02.01.13 – Gladiators; Men, Roman, Greek and other ancient soldiers, gladiators and Vikings; Vikings

Design codes such as this are basically an image category used by the trademark office. They are included with design mark filings, to make finding them easier. Obviously, Vikings (Scandinavian pirates) and gladiators (ancient Roman fighters) are quite different from one another, but the USPTO includes them in the same search code since they can look similar. The American Express logo application also lists three other search codes, none of which mention the word “Viking.”

Further evidence that it is NOT a viking can be seen on the trademarks list:


Lastly, American Express describes the logo as “a gladiator head design” in a trademark lawsuit they filed against Vibra Approved Laboratories in 1989.

But I thought it was a Centurion soldier?

Many people assume it’s a head of a Centurion solider. It seems logical, being that this logo is used on the Centurion card and “American Express Centurion Bank” is the actual issuer of AmEx credit cards.

According to the definitions for each are:

Centurion – (in  the ancient  Roman  army)  the  commander  of  a  century.  c.1275, from L., Roman army officer, head of a centuria “group of one hundred,” from centum  “hundred”

Gladiator – (in  ancient  Rome)  a  person,  often  a  slave  or  captive,  who was  armed  with  a  sword  or  other  weapon  and  compelled  to  fight  to  the death  in  a  public  arena  against  another  person  or  a  wild  animal,  for  the  entertainment  of  the  spectators.

A “slave or captive” is quite different than an army commander, so it appears the only thing the two have in common is that they both existed during the same period.

amex first logo of a guard dogI read one source which claims the person is indeed a Centurion and was chosen as AmEx’s logo when they were a freight company. The problem with that explanation is that American Express was a freight company nearly 100 years before they ever filed for this trademark. Furthermore, it is a confirmed fact (according to AmEx’s own company history) that the logo used during their freight shipping days was a watchdog.

That being said, the logo does have an uncanny resemblance to a centurion…

comparison of american express head logo with a centurion


Written documentation by American Express clearly identifies its logo as a gladiator. On the other hand, the visual design itself seems to suggest a closer resemblance to a centurion (the headgear is much fancier than what the typical gladiator wore). So in my personal opinion, I believe the logo must be a bit of a mish-mash between the two. Perhaps AmEx’s trademark attorneys in the 50′s incorrectly described it on the application as a “gladiator” and that’s the reason it is still referred to such today.

And let’s not forget the blue box logo…

The history behind this AmEx logo isn’t nearly as exciting as the gladiator/centurion. The blue and white square logo was adapted in 1975 so AmEx would have a clear, distinguishable logo that could easily be printed and recognized to identify the company.

Editorial Disclosure: The editorial content on this page is not provided by any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

7 comments... read them below or add your own

  1. Arbee September 19, 2014 at 9:24AM

    I don’t care whether it is a Viking, Centurion, Gladiator, or something else. I just want to know WHY they chose this particular logo.

  2. Jojo July 20, 2014 at 4:39PM

    Stop all the fighting. Can’t we all get along. Bull you weren’t around when they trampled all over Ireland. You don’t have perspective

  3. Mike Kormendy April 28, 2014 at 3:44PM

    To set the records FULLY straight .. the illustrator that was commissioned to redo the logo for American Express in 2009 is Steven Noble. He was instructed to illustrate a “Centurion”. He names his image “Centurion” .. and therefore final logo that we all are familiar with today is not a gladiator, not a viking, not a spartan, but … a CENTURION.


  4. philliproy September 21, 2013 at 11:36AM

    This is a well researched article about the identity of the American Express Roman soldier, whether a commander with a fancy helmet or a slave gladiator as originally envisioned in the late 1950s.

  5. Lancelot August 14, 2013 at 5:38AM

    No, centurion is the most likely to be (Centurion bank).

  6. Joao October 5, 2012 at 8:06AM

    Vikings, pirates?! Vikings were farmers and warriors, as well as sailors, but never pirates or the invading hordes people think them to be… much like they think the AmEx symbol is a viking…

    • bull August 9, 2013 at 11:58AM

      Bull. Tell it to the people they trampled in Ireland.

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