We’ve all seen “I Love New York” T-shirts, mugs, posters, and other branded merchandise, but few people know exactly where they come from, and even those who do miss out on some of the trivia surrounding the tagline. The tagline is old enough that most people can look at I Love New York t-shirts without wondering where the brand comes from, but at the same time it seems modern enough to know that you can’t have more than a few. decades. .
This intuition about vintage I Love New York t-shirts is correct. The design originated in 1977: New York State Department of Commerce Deputy Commissioner William S. Doyle knew that New York had incredible potential for attracting tourists. At the same time, he was aware that many tourists did not bother to visit the city; some were concerned about crime or upset about high prices, but most just never thought about going there. I needed a slogan that didn’t convince people that it was a good city to visit; I needed a catchphrase that would appeal to the millions of people who were already convinced and catalyze their decision to take the trip.
The I Love New York T-shirt story takes an interesting turn after that: Doyle hired an advertising agency, Wells Rich Greene, to create a new tourism campaign. This was a fairly conventional move: New York has long been a center for the advertising business, and many large and reputable advertising agencies were and are based in the city. But then Doyle did something a little less conventional: He tapped into the design talent of Milton Glaser, a well-regarded designer.
Surprisingly, Glaser didn’t think the job was a big deal. Unable to imagine the fact that decades later I Love New York t-shirts would be everywhere in the country, Glaser created the new logo for free. Glaser had many reasons to keep busy: In addition to being a successful freelance designer, Glaser had co-founded the popular New York Magazine and was involved in work both locally and internationally.
Shortly after the first I Love New York t-shirts were printed, Doyle, Wells Rich Greene, and New York itself knew they had a hit on their hands. Although the ad campaign was intended to be one of many temporary attempts to increase the city’s tourism revenue, it was a surprisingly long-lasting campaign. The ease with which people could copy the design (occasionally replacing the American Typewriter font with the more common Courier) meant that the design was often referenced and even parodied. Still, the vast majority of observers were only reminded that the I Love New York jerseys are the originals.
Surprisingly, the I Love New York t-shirts don’t just refer to the city. Doyle worked for the state and the campaign was designed for the entire state. But as most I Love New York t-shirt wearers know, it’s a design that almost exclusively reminds people of the city.