History can be rewritten, and done so in a manner that gets the attention of old and young, hip and square. Perhaps the only ones who will not find the musical Hamilton entertaining and informative will be those bloodless professor emeriti of history who insist that the story of Alexander Hamilton’s America be as bloodless and boring as they. History, art, and advertising have successfully collaborated to design a logo that captures the passion and power, precariousness and possibility surrounding the tempestuous relationships between Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, and others of the time. The image that represents the musical has a history of its own. It’s the Hamilton logo.
What Is the Hamilton Musical About?
Hamilton is a two-act, rap and hip-hop musical based on the book by Ron Chernow, but conceived, gestated, and delivered by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The setting is the late 1700s, and the turmoil is between the sitting Vice President of the United States Aaron Burr, and the former Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton. Act I focuses on Alexander Hamilton’s early life and follows along the parallel of events occurring at this time. Act I ends when Hamilton becomes Secretary of the Treasury, appointed by President Washington.
Act II widens the focus on the path Hamilton is taking. The intrigue in his personal life is just as complicated a web as the events of the time, including the election of Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr. Love, loss, infidelity, and jealousy all combine to put pressure on Alexander Hamilton, and the long-standing differences and public arguments he and Aaron Burr share cause them to end up on the dueling field. Alexander Hamilton fires a wild shot and Aaron Burr’s bullet hits the intended target, killing Hamilton. Aaron Burr is then ruined for life.
Hamilton brilliantly tells the history through exhilarating, heart-pounding dance and song, with lyrics firing through the mind like Fourth of July sparklers. The true brilliance of Hamilton is revealed through underlying currents of race, gender, slavery and, above all, the consequence of having second thoughts. Alexander Hamilton’s rise from obscurity to powerful politician and finally to his last moment of realization—that he indeed has enough and won’t back down from a challenge—is captured in the Hamilton logo.
What Does the Hamilton Logo Design Represent?
At face value, the Hamilton logo shows a black, five-pointed star. The top point is replaced by the shadow image of Alexander Hamilton rotated towards the right, legs at a bipedal base, posture erect, and left arm pointed straight up towards the sky with a pistol in hand. Alexander Hamilton represents the top point of the star and he is standing on the surface of the two side points, all supported by the bottom two points to make a complete star. This Hamilton logo summarizes the last moments of Alexander Hamilton’s life.
Threaded through the fabric of the play is the declaration that Alexander Hamilton does not intend to “throw away his shot.” Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr had been having ongoing public fights and name-calling, and in those days a man had to defend his honor and could do so through the waning practice of dueling. There is a second meaning to that phrase, however, and that is that the determined, willful, and hard-charging statesman that was Alexander Hamilton would do anything he had to do—fight any fight he had to fight—in order to achieve his goals. That Alexander Hamilton would take full advantage of every opportunity that came his way is represented in the Hamilton logo.
The musical Hamilton provides an additional richness of depth in its content, with the second meaning to the theme that Alexander Hamilton would not “throw away his shot.” One etiquette of the dueling ritual was that if the first to shoot threw away his shot by aiming and firing towards the ground or sky, then the opponent was expected to understand this meant that the first to fire changed his mind and did not want to go through with the deadly act of shooting at another human being. The notion here is that Alexander Hamilton, at the last moment, realized that the reason for which the dual was arranged was in fact not reason enough to die. Alexander Hamilton was willing to back down from the challenge, but the story ended with the death of Hamilton and the end of Aaron Burr’s career and reputation.
That is the history of the dual according to the musical. Historians will watch Hamilton and volunteer fact checking. Two shots were indeed fired, according to the Seconds present. Neither man fired their one-shot at the ground or straight up in the air to signify the end of the dual and the end of male posturing and face-saving.
Alexander Hamilton fired first, sending his bullet into a tree just above and behind Aaron Burr’s position; Burr returned fire and killed Hamilton. That Alexander Hamilton did not fire directly into the ground created the doubt that lives on in the ivory towers of academia. Technically, he did not throw away his shot, but did he waste his one opportunity? Whether he accidentally fired or was bending the rules of etiquette by firing above his opponent as opposed to the ground, will remain a matter of opinion; the musical proposes that Hamilton did indeed throw away his shot.
What Is the History and Evolution Behind the Hamilton Logo?
Spotco, the advertising company that has designed logos for multiple Broadway hits, won the bragging rights to this cultural icon—the Hamilton logo. Almost 30 has-beens were designed over eight weeks; eight were considered favorites by the designers. Graphics, fonts, color and design were the determinants of the final product. Historical relevance, of course, took center stage for every design.
The Exclamation Point
The Exclamation Point looks like the attempt to cram as many catchphrases superimposed on a large red exclamation point as possible. Serving as the bottom point of the punctuation mark is the title of the musical superimposed on an almost unintelligible figure of what might be Alexander Hamilton.
The Pose looks too much like the cover of a Stephen King novel. An eerie blue light glows behind the shadowy figure with arms outstretched. The messages ‘Life, Liberty, Legacy, Hamilton’ are right on point in terms of relevance, but the white wispy font makes it look like a ghostly entity or a message from a Ouija board imposed onto a screen.
The evolution of the Hamilton logo continued on with two attempts to return to minimalism. The Old School ‘H’ gives one the sensation that they are about to watch a Western such as The Wild West or Maverick. That was way too 60s and 70s. The Dusty ‘H’ is just that—a musty, dusty History Channel documentary on the ancient walls of Jericho. It was too dry.
Further shaping the Hamilton logo are two efforts that bounce between a hard rock concert and a college campus protest. ‘The Spray Paint’ and ‘The Hand and Quill’ simply do not convey the spirit and passion of the musical. The sensorium covertly travels through a time warp from the 1770s to the 1960s.
Return to the Revolution
‘The Quill’ and the ‘The Ink Stain Round 2′ are two attempts to convey the colonial-revolutionary context of the play, but again, observers are left feeling as patriotic and enthusiastic about the theme as they would be if they were looking at a handful of United States coins. The ‘Ink Stain Round 1′ is a collage of revolutionary war era images with a profile of Alexander Hamilton in the center thinking the words “rise up”; this logo is so busy that admission should be charged for the time it takes to study every component.
A Star Is Born
Eureka and at last. A star is born in the Hamilton logo. The figure of Alexander Hamilton is rotated towards his right, legs as a bipedal base, torso erect and arm held up high, creating the sensation of the dancing that is elemental to the musical. His arm is held up in defiance signifying the controversial nature of Alexander Hamilton. The pistol in his hand represents not just the dual, but the finality of the decisions Alexander Hamilton made and didn’t make.
That a star is used sums up the patriotic, Stars & Stripes flavor of the undercurrent of the play. The patriotic undertone is represented in the base of the star that Hamilton stands on and is a metaphor for the environment in which the play takes place. The antique gold, parchment feel of the background again is metaphorical for the environment in which the play takes place. The lighting on the background coming from above and to the left lends a perfect three-dimensional quality to the Hamilton logo.
The musical Hamilton has stimulated a collective internal stirring of emotion, making it an astonishing success, and has given the Hamilton logo an iconic status. Although the evolution of the logo does not seem painful—the runners-up were not so far off the mark—the winning Hamilton logo is picture-perfect in the conveyance of multiple themes. Simplicity, color, font and design summarize the musical in one image. History, art and advertising have successfully collaborated to design a logo that captures the passion and power, precariousness and possibility surrounding the tempestuous relationships between Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton and others of the time. The image that represents the musical has a history of its own—the Hamilton logo.