The idea of the capital P that stretches horizontally over all the other letters of the name like a roof was born in New York, one day back in 1908. A sudden inspiration, the result of a request by the Pirelli representative in the United States, where the considerable development of commercial advertising meant that a brand that was not totally unknown, but still very young, had to stand out with a precise image and a strong identity. It was a done deal in America. And in Europe, too, immediately afterwards.
The year before there had been the exploit of the Peking-Paris race. All thanks to Pirelli tyres, The "Itala", driven by prince Scipione Borghese and "Corriere della Sera" special envoy Luigi Barzini covered 17 thousand kilometres of juddering, stones, dust and mud between June to August. This feat was an epic affirmation of the domination of the car, and with it the fame of a brand that was already familiar, thanks to the cables and rubber products, which had now extended to include tyres. Or rather, "pneus", the "sophisticated" French term preferred by the elite of the time.
That was when Pirelli transformed its image in the collective imagination, and became synonymous with tyres and rubber. The underlying reason was an evident aesthetic one: the image became iconic. Demonstrated by a hundred years of advertising fortune and strong popularity.
The history of the Pirelli logo is about calligraphy rather than graphic design. The Elongated P initially paid tribute to the flowery and ornate taste of the time, winding around the vertical part of the letter at the expense of the loop at the top. In another version, it wound around the word with a curving overlap into the other letters of the logo. Another time the horizontal part twisted around the word "pneu", becoming the radiator, bonnet and chassis of a red racing car. Another version focussed on the final "s" of the "pneus", generating a flexible and multicultured pack of riders, which to modern eyes greatly resemble the roaring parade in the opening sequences of the film "The Wild One".
The most curious aspect is the happy "contagion" that the P of the Pirelli logo exercised at the time on the other words in the same advertising space.
"Pneus Pirelli" was the benchmark for them all, with the later "Pirelli Cord", each featuring the stretched out initial letters, to the present-day "Pirelli Lastex" - a modern echo of the old phenomenon of mutual attraction and pleasing graphic design.
The "loop" that stretches elastically, thickening and rounding at the end, where the invisible hand holds it, preventing it springing back into its original shape, is a kind of Disney-like intuition. It recurs like a character in a story, and in its turn generates other characters : it gives its name to a chapter of the inspired and rich story of early 20th century advertising posters.
The hand keeps pulling the elastic, and in the meantime the figure of Pierino from Codognato, riding his fast bike was born; the flying child pedalling through a cloud of coloured balls; the fleeing fox curled up on the tyre (hounds and riders will never catch him), and a man wrapped in a raincoat under the pouring rain happily treading on two useless umbrellas.
Another Pierino, awkwardly juggling umbrella and homework under the rain, is very happy with the effect of the Pirelli eraser on the pages of his exercise book. And once again, the stretched out P pulls other letters with it. Then the hand stops pulling, as if the limit has been reached.
After 1920, the story brings to the foreground characters that are apparently more real, more composed. And then, after 1930, the cavity of the P becomes stronger, and fall into line with the cold light of the White Star. The changes mainly affect the other letters of the name, or the characters of the other words of the advertising slogan. Changes in calligraphy seem part of the distant past, as are loops, swirls and hooks. The vertical part of the P acquires a kind of terminal edge, and now and again the characters acquired a tombstone-like appearance.
So, immediately after 1945, the graphic tradition of the Pirelli logo seemed quite varied and contradictory: some rules were needed. The decision was to focus on simplicity and linguistic unity, to highlight the effect of the P, making the amount of stretching permanent. The thickness scale of the other letters of the name was also established, so they remained unchanged from one font size to the next.
The font to be used for the slogans, advertising copy and illustrative texts was Cairoli.