How The 'Flying W' Became More Than A City Logo

Mar 3, 2017

Drive throughout Waco and it won’t take long for you to spot some of the city’s iconic imagery. There’s the Alico building in downtown, and the century-old Cotton railroad bridge is a focal point too. But as Juliana Taylor reports, there's another image you should think of: the Flying W. 

For the uninitiated, the “Flying W” is the logo the City of Waco has been using since the early 1990s. It’s that calligraphic “W” with a single star tucked under the letter’s arch. The logo has become so iconic that it’s found its way on to just about everything, like T-shirts.

Every time Carol Perry sees these tees she smiles. 

“I say, ‘thank you for buying that T-shirt.’ And I tell them I designed the W. They always look back in surprise," Perry laughs.

"A city logo can't be too fine or too script or too anything. It has to be strong."

Today, Perry is a senior lecturer at Baylor University, but at the time she designed the logo she was the communications officer with the city. Now, after some 20 years, Perry says the 'Flying W' has a life of its own.

“It continues on, it marches ahead. Every time I see it I’m really happy about that."

But the 'Flying W' isn't the first image the city has created. Beginning in the 1950s, Brazos Bill was the icon people associated with Waco. He was a cheery little buckaroo, who was more of an ambassador or mascot. You could find him printed on city pamphlets and notifications.  Then sometime shortly after, Brazos Bill became a Waco Will, a tiny cowboy who wore a 10-gallon Stetson embellished with a “W”, and had boots and a buckle to match. But these guys didn’t stick around for too long says Larry Holze. Holze is the current communications officer for the City of Waco. He says for him the flying W is as familiar as McDonald’s golden arches.

“Bottom line, if everyone understands what a logo is, in almost a nanosecond of seeing it, you say,‘oh that’s the city of Waco logo,’" Holze says. 

Waco Will as he appeared in City of Waco notifications
Credit City of Waco

Which is exactly what former City Manager, David Smith, had in mind when he popped in on Perry and asked her to first design a new logo. So Perry sat down and started to think about Waco. How could a logo reflect the city?  

“A city logo can’t be too fine or too script or too anything. It has to be strong," Perry says.

Sow when Perry began her work, she collected W’s, looking for inspiration.  She looked at logos from Whataburger, to Williamsburg to Wyndham. Anything with a W, she wanted to look at. And when it came time to design, she decided to use calligraphy to create her W.

She used a style called uncial, a rounded script found primarily in Latin and Greek manuscripts centuries ago. 

“I liked their W," Perry says of the style. "And the far right side of the W has a big flare and I thought well that’s nice.”

But there’s another interesting bit of flare to the logo that's easy to pass over, says Carlye Thornton. Thornton is a graphic designer. 

"So in the 'W' the first two points of the 'W' have feet," Thornton says. "So the first two-thirds is a serif font, more medieval, more structured. Then the last point, curves around and formulates a star, which is more modern and more script."

Thornton says the inclusion of both serif and sans serif style isn’t too common and that’s what makes the 'Flying W' so unique and iconic.

But several years ago there was talk of changing the logo. Around 2011, some surrounding Waco suburbs felt they weren’t included or represented by the Flying W so a public relations firm was brought in to design a new logo.

“I was here and I said “uh-un, no,'" Holze recalls. "It was getting its strength. You don’t change something that means something to you. I was against changing it.”

Stretching as far back as the 1950s, Brazos Bill became the image people associated with the city.

Today, the logo has shifted from its intended purposes of representing city government to something much more than just a logo; it’s become a reflection of the place many people call home.

"In a broader sense, it belongs to all of us," Perry  says.