You have to go back to the old RCA Victor company and its dog “Nipper” to find a canine logo as famous as the bulldog that adorns Mack Trucks.
The canine hood ornament, 95 years old, can be spotted on almost every vehicle in the manufacturer’s lineup. The tiny pooch is known as Mack the Bulldog, and also is featured on company apparel and its magazine is called “Bulldog.”
Mack, founded in 1900 but now owned by Sweden’s AB Volvo, offers variations of the canine ornament, some of which wear tiny helmets, construction and fireman outfits, and Superman-style red capes.
There’s no debating the iconic status of the dog, whose popularity can be traced back to the First World War—and specifically — the Mack AC truck.
Introduced in 1916, Mack provided the U.S. government with about 4,500 AC trucks. More than 2,000 units went to Great Britain. The vehicle quickly gained favor among the American, French and British troops during World War I due to its durability and performance.
The AC was great for all purposes, Doug Maney, curator of Mack’s historical museum, told Trucks.com. The vehicle was strong and tenacious, much like an English bulldog, and the shape of its hood resembled the animal too.
“The AC had a blunt hood that kind of tapered down and resembled their [the soldiers’] English bulldogs,” said Maney. “The English bulldog was a tough animal: The dogs were bred to take down bulls.”
British soldiers made the connection between dog and truck and started referring to the AC model as the Bulldog Mack. The name stuck.
However, it wasn’t until 1921 that the first bulldog was featured on a Mack truck—not as an ornament—but as an emblem on the vehicle’s side. Back then, the company was boastful in its advertising, Maney said. The design was a front view of an English bulldog tearing up a book, and on the book was printed the words “hauling costs.”
In other words, “a Mack will destroy your hauling costs,” Maney said. And below the book, “the slogan ‘Performance Counts’ was placed across the bottom of the plate.”
By 1932, a bored Alfred F. Masury, Mack’s chief engineer, created the ornament. A medical issue had sidelined Masury, leaving him looking for something to do with his hands. The answer: a carved bulldog.
“That figure ultimately became the model for the first patent on the infamous Mack bulldog radiator cap ornament.” Maney said.
That same year, the carved bulldog figure appeared on the front of the Mack AB, a lighter-duty version of the AC. It was eventually mounted on the AC during its final year of production in 1938.
Throughout the years, the company’s trademark symbol has evolved—not just from emblem to hood ornament—but in design as well. Mack trimmed the ears and tail of its pooch in 1979 to provide a smoother surface, since it would often catch on the gloves or jewelry of drivers, owners and mechanics when tilting the hood of the truck.
Its function changed too. The ornament was placed on trucks with exposed radiator caps, but as truck design evolved, access to the radiator was concealed under the vehicle’s body panels. The Bulldog went from being exclusively a radiator cap ornament to a handle.
“On conventional models with tilt hoods, the Bulldog ornament became the handle for opening the hood to access the engine compartment for maintenance and servicing,” Maney said. “On a cab-over engine model the Bulldog ornament became the handle for stabilization for the person washing the windshield or servicing items such as windshield wipers or radiator coolant.”
To this day, the tiny dog remains a handle on Mack’s current production models. However, even as its functionality changed, the ornament is still a powerful symbol of American trucking with a history that links back to a vehicle that’s as tenacious as a bulldog.