The Pontiac brand of cars is the namesake of a great Indian chief who fought the British during colonial days and was murdered here 240 years ago.
Pontiac was an Ottawa chief who was born around 1720. His mother was a member of the Chippewa tribe, his father was an Ottawa. Pontiac became a leader of the combined Ottawa, Chippewa and Potawatomie tribes in their battles against British expansion into what became the upper Midwest of the United States and Canada's Ontario province.
He may have been present when Indians and their French allies surprised and killed British Gen. Edward Braddock about 50 miles south of present-day Pittsburgh in 1755. With the British army that day was George Washington, then a colonial officer and aide to Braddock.e
Pontiac signed a treaty with the British in Detroit in 1766 but began losing power among his Indian allies. On April 20, 1769, while on a visit to the village of Cahokia, he was clubbed to death by a young Peoria Indian. The body of the chief was taken across the Mississippi River to the new village of St. Louis and buried near present-day Broadway and Walnut streets. The site of his grave was long ago lost to urban development.
The city of Pontiac in Oakland County in southeastern Michigan, was settled in 1819 in his honor. Albert G. North and Harry G. Hamilton founded the Pontiac Buggy Company (aka the Pontiac Spring and Wagon Works) in 1893. They changed their business from horse-drawn carriages to motor vehicles in 1906 and took on the Oakland Motor Car name. In 1926, General Motors Corp. bought the Oakland Motor Car Co. in Pontiac and renamed its cars after the great chief.
In 1926, GM introduced a companion marque to GM’s Oakland line: Pontiac. The brand was named after Pontiac, Grand Chief of the Ottawa Native Americans, who was famous for his rebellion against Fort Detroit (the British) in 1763. Because of this, Native American imagery was used in marketing throughout the early life of the brand.
GM announced in April 2009 that it plans to discontinue the brand by the end of 2010.
The first logo of this “athletic” automotive brand was a Native American headdress atop the titular Native American warrior, Chief Pontiac. It incorporated the same shield shape as the Oakland emblem, a fitting tribute as Pontiac absorbed Oakland in the early 1930s.
The same “Indian Head” emblem was also used as a hood ornament.
During the 1930s, a silver shield subtlety crept into the logo, surrounding the silhouette of a streamlined, less “cartoonish” Native American
In 1956, the Native American head design was retired. In order to appeal to youthful consumers looking for affordable performance vehicles, the old-fashioned Native American profile was replaced with a subtler, elegant emblem: a downward-facing, red arrowhead known as the “Dart.” While traces of the new logo began appearing in 1957, including the stars along the Star Chief model’s body, the badge didn’t officially debut on the Bonneville’s split grille until the 1959 wide track model.
While there’s no official explanation what the star means (apart from paying homage to the Star Chief) or why the logo is red, many speculate it’s a nod to symbols prevalent in Native American art. Before the 1950s, the Pontiac did flaunt many Native American names and iconography in its lineup.