The History of and Story Behind the Michigan State Logo

Michigan State

Fans of the Michigan State Spartans quickly recognize the green image of the spartan in its helmet as the official symbol of the team. The current image has evolved significantly from the original. Unlike many other logos, Michigan State uses several alternate versions. The history of the logo can be a bit confusing because there are so many iterations that are used for official purposes. Here is our explanation of the history and rationale for the many logo images used by the team.

History of the Michigan State logo

The first mascot for the Michigan State Spartans emerged in 1955 in the form of a papier-mache Spartan head. The piece was created by three Theta Xi fraternity brothers. It was designed to fit the real-life student chosen the wear the fix feet costume that weighed over 60 pounds. The costume was worn in the 1956 Rose Bowl Game, but the papier-mache portion was replaced with a lighter by 30 pounds head made of fiberglass, according to the MSU Alum page. The costume was worn at MSU games until 1981.

The first logo for Michigan State

According to 1000 logos, the first logo was introduced in 1955. It bore little resemblance to the current rendition. The old logo that was first introduced in 1966 featured a fan dressed up in a trenchcoat, carrying a thermos and binoculars, smoking a pipe. He carried a green banner that said STATE in white letters with a satchel adorned with the letter S. This logo was in use until 1972.


The Michigan State logo appeared in a new version in 1970. A white Spartan head with much more detailing and a different more rococo styling appeared with the spartan in white with green trim. The image featured softer lines at the top of the helmet with a younger warrior who looked as though he could be the age of the players on the team. This version of the logo was retired after the 1976 season.


A version of the logo appeared in 1983 in a hand-drawn image of a Spartan warrior with a large and grumpy face. He had the appearance of a battle-worn soldier ready to take on a new battle at any moment. Although it’s not particularly attractive, there was a significant amount of detail included in the soldier’s face and his battle helmet. The image was designed in a muted green color with “MSU” appearing beneath the image. This image remained in use until 1877.

1977 to the present

The primary logo for Michigan State changed from the detailed soldier to a highly stylized image of a spartan warrior delivered in an image that has a stenciled appearance. One representation shows the image stenciled in white against a forest green background. The Spartan is placed in the center of the University seal in a rising sun symbol represented in the green circle with a white ring outlining the outer portion that contains the image of the Spartan. It was in use simultaneously while other logo versions came and went.

The symbolism of the logo

The Spartan image represents the warrior and the teamwork that was utilized heavily by Spartan soldiers. They were fighting machines and the goal was the win in battle. The green color in the logo relates to agriculture, which is a part of the educational program at the institution. The white rings are walkways symbolizing access to higher-education.

Evolution of the Michigan State logo

The version created in 1977 is still used currently, but other versions emerged over the years. According to Michigan State, the same image of the stylized Spartan warrior was created in Green and up against a square white background. Wordmarks were added beneath the image. Michigan was spelled out in white capital letters against s banner of green. State appeared in larger lettering in green, and it held the MICHIGAN banner up. This version of the logo first appeared in 1987. It is still in use today as an alternate logo. A second alternate logo appeared with the colors reversed. The Spartan warrior appeared in white against a green background with “Michigan” in green coloring against a white banner and the word State in white against a green background. The secondary logo is also currently in use.

The Block alternate logo

In 1983 the block logo emerged as an alternate. The logo contains the image of the “S.” It appears in capital form. In a capital letter with the world State, also capitalized at the bottom. Both are in dark green against a white background. The letter “S” is the symbol for the name of the team. It is still in use presently.

Why so many versions of the logo?

The rationale for the use of a primary and three alternate logos for Michigan State is for marketing purposes. Regardless of the placement of the elements, fans still recognize the logo. Differences in the image of the Spartan and the indication of the school are consistent throughout all versions. It’s an interesting take on branding that allows for a higher number of possibilities when it comes to making varying styles of products such as cups, banners, t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats/caps, and more. Some patrons of the team will buy every version of a sweatshirt to own the entire collection of the logo symbols. It is a brilliant marketing strategy.

Final thoughts

Michigan State University has an interesting take on their logo and branding. Instead of sticking with just one image to represent the institution, three alternates are currently in use with the primary. Fans of the team recognize and embrace each version as a symbol of the school and the football team that they take pride in. The most consistent feature of the logo has been the use of the colors green and white. It’s not uncommon for schools to create alternate versions for the sake of abbreviation and for merchandising branded and licensed products.

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