For some, it might be an image of Samford Hall. Others, the Toomer’s Oaks or the back of a No. 34 or No. 2 jersey. But for the last 46 years, the image that has come to mind for most when thinking of Auburn is the interlocking AU logo, thanks not to the work of a marketing firm or a professional artist but a 19-year old Auburn University student who just wanted his drum to look a little cooler.
Fritz Siler was a sophomore at Auburn University and a bass drummer of the Auburn University Marching Band in 1965, which for most was still the age of black and white television. When he caught glimpses of himself on Shug Jordan and Carl Stephens’ weekly Auburn Football Review, he thought there was a need for a more memorable emblem on his drum, something more than a simple—and on television, gray—”A.”
“I watched Shug’s show and our TV was black and white. I thought ‘That A, it could be anybody’s,'” Siler says. “So I decided to make some changes.”
When he saw his roommate Ken Smith working on a graphic for an industrial design project that was similar in concept to the overlapping “I” and “U” of an Indiana University’s logo, the interlocking AU was born.
He created a symmetrical stencil of the design, or at least as symmetrical as possible.
“Everything was done by hand,” says Siler, who studied mechanical drawing in high school. “No CAD (computer-aided design). No screen printing. We didn’t know what that was. We thought that was something for T-shirts.”
Screen printing was for T-shirts, Auburn shirts that would soon feature the AU. Siler’s design covers T-shirts, hats, boots, transit buses and most recently, Jordan-Hare Stadium. You can’t go anywhere in Auburn without seeing it.
But it made its debut on Siler’s drum at the 1966 A-Day game: A navy blue interlocking AU with orange trim (he thought blue would help distinguish Auburn from orange-clad competition like Tennessee, Clemson, and Florida). He actually painted the logo on the $20 head of his bass drum before running the idea by band director Dr. Bodie Hinton.
“I thought it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission,” Siler laughs, though he says he figured Hinton would be fine with it. He was.
Siler never expected the design would become so popular, saying, “It came out of innocence.”
“It wasn’t really that big of a deal,” he says, speaking of his inspiration behind wanting a unique logo. “It all had to do with being able to be seen and recognized and specifically Auburn.”
Like virtually every Auburn tradition, there are competing theories as to the logo’s origins. Former Auburn Athletic Director Jeff Beard has long been credited with coming up with the AU, but the design made its way onto Auburn’s football helmets for the 1966 season, a year after the date typically given with the Beard account according to a story published last year in Inside The Auburn Tigers magazine. At the time, Jordan and Beard were reportedly looking for a new design for the helmets that then only featured the players’ numbers.
“I think probably Shug or the Athletic Director (Beard) called Buddy Hinton and asked about it and asked if they could use it,” Siler says. They did.
Siler left the Plains to enlist in the Army in 1967. He was a member of the 4th Army Musician Band in Germany. When he returned to finish his B.S. in music in 1973, the televisions were color and the AU was everywhere.
“I had no earthly idea it was going to be such a big deal,” he says, “I just liked the design.”
Siller, who is still involved with Auburn University and the Auburn Knights Alumni Association, was never compensated for the logo. He had no idea the image would become so popular, so he didn’t trademark it.
He’s amused that his name is slowly becoming associated with the logo, but isn’t looking for compensation or even recognition—at least not for himself.
“One thing I really wish would happen would be that the university band be able to reap some of the benefit of it (officially licensed AU merchandise featuring the logo) since that’s where it came from,” Siler says. “They’re the ones that allowed me to put that on a bass drum to start with.”
Photos courtesy Fritz Siler.
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