July 5, 2007
It has been seen in the state of Washington, across the nation, and in many instances, throughout the world. From apparel, license plates, and cheese tins to the 50-yard line on the FieldTurf surface at Martin Stadium, and everywhere in between.
It is the logo of Washington State University: the Cougar Head Monogram. The logo has become so recognizable that when one speaks of, or thinks about, WSU, chances are it is the logo that appears as their initial vision of the University.
"It's probably the best known logo in the United States," longtime friend and former WSU registrar C. James Quann said.
On Feb. 16, WSU lost the gentleman responsible for creating the logo. But though he is gone, the legacy he left behind will live forever in the past, present, and future of Washington State University.
Randall Johnson, creator of the Cougar Head logo, passed away at the age of 91 in Spokane.
The story of how the logo came to be is well known. It was created by Johnson in July 1936 when he was a student at then named Washington State College.
Employed as a college sign painter that summer, Johnson, a fine arts major, was working for Fred Rounds, the college architect and head of the Department of Buildings and Grounds.
"Both of us saw the possibilities of what he (Rounds) called `some kind of trademark,' to use instead of the lengthy official name," Johnson wrote in describing the creation of the logo. "He authorized me to see what I could think up, maybe incorporating the Cougar-head shape."
It took him three nights to create the logo that became the trademark of the university.
"I was just kind of doodling," Johnson told the Spokesman-Review in a 2000 interview. "I wanted a cougar. I wanted it to be animated, directional and also carry at a distance. Finally, one night I got it hooked together the way I liked it."
Rounds liked Johnson's creation, and the pair took it to Dean Kimbrough, who was acting president while President Ernest Holland was in Japan. Kimbrough gave his blessing and the rest was history.
In 1958, when the school's name was changed to Washington State University, Johnson tweaked the logo to reflect the revised name.
The logo has been in feature films, placed on World War II fighter jets and has even been in outer space when astronaut John Fabian wore a logo pin aboard the space shuttle.
Though he is best known to Cougar fans as the logo's architect, Johnson's accomplishments go far beyond his creation of the Cougar logo.
Author of numerous papers, which he also illustrated, about Inland Northwest history, Johnson was named a "Living Legend" by the Westerners, an international history organization, in 1999. At the time, Johnson was just the 39th person to earn such a distinction in the 55-year history of the organization.
After graduating from WSC in 1938, Johnson began a career in the advertising department of the Washington Water Power Company, where he would stay for the next 38 years, interrupted only by his service in the military in World War II. Johnson served in the infantry, medical department, and instructional services of the Command and General Staff School.
Johnson was first employed at WWP in 1940 as an advertising artist. He was later placed in charge of the firm's advertising activities, a position he would hold until his retirement.
In 1956, Johnson was the first to be named "Ad Man of the Year" by the Spokane Advertising and Sales Association and in 1977 he received the Silver Medal of the American Advertising Federation. Two years later, Johnson was honored with the WSU Alumni Achievement Award and, in 1997, Johnson and his wife Jeanne were designated as WSU Benefactors.
"He was probably the greatest Cougar of all-time," said Quann, who proposed that the Art Museum on the WSU campus be named in honor of Johnson. "He remained faithful to the Cougars and to Washington State University throughout his entire life."
At the same time he revised the logo to reflect the change to Washington State University, Johnson sold the rights to the logo for a token amount of $1.
"The Cougar Head Monogram is my gift to my Alma Mater that did so much for me," Johnson wrote. "Its acceptance by several generations of Cougars is more than enough pay."
Story By Jason Krump