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And The Beat Goes On: The True Story Behind Auburn’s “AU” Logo

Auburn’s interlocking AU logo was born in 1966 on the head of Auburn grad Fritz Siler’s AUMB bass drum, which today hangs on the wall of Ken Smith, Siler’s college roommate, who partly inspired the logo’s design.

 

For some, it might be an image of Samford Hall. Or 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 overlapping 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 for 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’s weekly Auburn Football Review, he thought there was a need for a more memorable emblem on his drum, something more than a simple—and gray, on television—’A.’

“I watched Shug’s show, and our TV was black and white,” Siler says. “I thought that ‘A’ could be anybody’s. So I decided to make some changes.”

At the time, Siler’s roommate happened to be working on a graphic for an industrial design project. To Siler, it looked similar to Indiana University’s overlapping “I” and “U” logo. A lightbulb went off.

Auburn’s iconic AU logo made its first appearance on Auburn football helmets in 1966. Photo from the 1967 Glomerata.

Siler created a symmetrical stencil of “A” overlapping a “U”, 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 is for T-shirts—Auburn T-shirts that soon featured his design.

Today, Siler’s “AU” covers T-shirts, hats, boots, buses, and bodies. It’s everywhere. You have to try not to see 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.

“It wasn’t really that big of a deal,” he says. He just wanted a unique logo.

“It all had to do with being able to be seen and recognized and specifically Auburn.”

Dimensionally-speaking, the original hand drawn, hand painted version might barely miss an OK from Auburn’s licensing office, which has since made millions off it, but there’s no doubt: the graphic on Siler’s busted 1966 bass drum head is Auburn’s AU.

 

Of course, as with 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 during the 1966 season, a year after the date typically associated with Beard’s account. At the time, Jordan and Beard were reportedly looking for a new design for the helmets that then only featured the players’ jersey numbers.

“I think probably Shug or the Athletic Director (Beard) called Bodie Hinton and asked about it and asked if they could use it,” Siler says.

The Different Drummer: Fritz Siler taught music in Georgia public schools for 20 years after graduating from Auburn in Master’s in Music program in 1975.

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 Auburn in 1973 to finish his B.S. in music, 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 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 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.

Related: The True Story Behind Pat’s “Dry” Field.

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