The History of and Story Behind the Starbucks Logo


Starbucks is a Seattle coffee company that has become a phenomenon in America’s pop culture scene. Since opening its doors with the first shop in 1971, the bold flavor of the blend and various combinations of coffee styles and flavor combinations have become a staple in the United States as well as throughout the world. The complex logo has an interesting backstory, but to fully understand the meaning, one must know the history and story of the company called Starbucks.

The history of Starbucks

Starbucks was founded by a group of three Seattle based professionals. Two were teachers and one was a writer. The three agreed on a nautical theme for the Pike Place Market coffee bean shop. They considered names such as Pequod, or Ahab’s boat, but they settled on the name of Starbuck, the name of Ahab’s first mate. It was obvious the three had all read “Moby Dick.” The shop initially sold only coffee beans. With the name out of the way, it was time to choose a logo. The current image is different from the original design.

The original Starbucks logo

One of the Starbucks partners went in search of a suitable image for the company’s new logo. He discovered a nordic woodcut of a siren. the 16th-century design featured two tails and bare breasts, according to Mental Floss. The sea witch was adopted as the official image of Starbucks. The first logo from 1971 featured a depiction of an older witch holding the ends of her split mermaid tail in each hand. The image appeared in white against a medium brown background, enclosed in a circle. She became the focal point of the image with the name STARBUCKS at the top of the circle in a plain white font in all capital letters. The words Coffee, Tea, Spices appeared in white lettering at the bottom. There is no doubt that the first logo was catchy and somewhat attractive but the woman with her bare breasts wasn’t attractive. She was there to lure customers in to purchase coffee.

The evolution of the Starbucks logo

Through time, the logo underwent a series of changes. Design Hill gives us a chronological history of the evolution of the image. The old witch remained constant until the first revision to the logo was made in 1987. Howard Schultz acquired Starbucks and promptly changed the name to Starbucks Coffee. He made the decision to keep the Mermaid, but she would need to be cleaned up and made more suitable for the corporate world.

1987 logo revision

The colors were changed from brown and white to clean eco-friendly green with white lettering. The mermaid received an age regression to a younger and more attractive version of a sea witch. Her image was printed in white against a black background at the center of the green circle. The name Starbucks appeared in white at the top of the circle and Coffee appeared in white at the bottom. A few other changes were made including flowing hair and the mermaid’s navel was made visible.

1992 Starbucks logo

The logo was revised in 1992 with a larger image of the mermaid that showed more details of the image. The designers removed her navel but left the fishtail. They retained the green and white color scheme and added 2 stars on either side of the wordmark. This version of the logo remained in use until 2011

2011 revisions

2011 marked the 40th anniversary of the Starbucks Coffee company. In celebration, the logo was revised with a larger image of the siren in white against a circular green background. The designers removed the stars and the wordmark and left the image alone. This attempt to streamline the logo fell under heavy criticism from design experts as well as from Starbucks Coffee fans.

Who designed the Starbucks logo?

The original design was discovered by Terry Heckler. He found the old photo of a Norse woodcut of the sea witch in old marine books. Although he didn’t draw the image, he did make the discovery of the ancient image. Revisions to the original image were made by the in-house design team at Starbucks with assistance from Lippincott.

The meaning of the Starbucks logo

The original version of the logo featured a bare-breasted siren who represented the allure of the sea. According to Mashed, it was a simple marketing strategy. Just as mythological sirens lured sailors to their domains, the image of the sea witch was intended to draw people into the shop to purchase coffee. The partially nude figure was an unapologetic strategy for using sex to sell a product. It’s one of the oldest games in the marketing business.

The Starbucks logo is unique and inspiring

Logogenie describes the elements of the logo and the impact they have on the average consumer. The intention of the siren is intended to make us think about the sourcing of the ingredients. She’s portrayed in a natural setting with fresh clean green and white color scheme. It represents new growth and prosperity. It’s about being good citizens, using responsible and sustainable resources wisely, and taking care of each other and the planet simultaneously. The siren no longer uses sex to sell coffee, but rather a wholesome image to portray kindness and goodness. Her flowing locks are symbolic of these values. The natural tones of the color palette also represent renewal and good health.

Final thoughts

The Starbucks logo is easily recognized throughout the world in all its various forms. Perhaps the most memorable is the green and white version of the more wholesome siren. She is no longer the temptress, but rather, a cleaner and more positive version of a mermaid. She no longer lures sailors to their deaths. Instead, she invites consumers to become a part of an exciting experience enjoying one of the finest coffees in the world, and supporting a company that believes in the preservation of the planet.

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