Milton Glaser, Jewish designer of 'I (heart) NY' logo, dies at 91

In 1977, after New York City went through a fiscal crisis two years prior, the state wanted to bring tourists back, and asked Glaser to design the now world-famous logo.

Milton Glaser's famous "I (heart) NY" logo (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Milton Glaser's famous "I (heart) NY" logo
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Milton Glaser, designer of the iconic I (heart) NY logo and co-founder of New York Magazine, died on Friday, which was his 91st birthday. Shirley Glaser, Milton’s wife, told The New York Times that the cause of death was a stroke and renal failure.
In 1954, Glaser and other Cooper Union alumni formed Push Pin Studios where he created designs that began bringing professional attention to his work.
“We were excited by the very idea that we could use anything in the visual history of humankind as influence,” The New York Times quoted Glaser as saying in an interview for the 2004 book The Push Pin Graphic: A Quarter Century of Innovative Design and Illustration.
“Art Nouveau, Chinese wash drawing, German woodcuts, American primitive paintings, the Viennese secession and cartoons of the ’30s were an endless source of inspiration,” he added.
Beyond the New York logo, Glaser designed the famous poster featuring a profile of Bob Dylan with psychedelic hair in 1966, which was commissioned by CBS Records and accompanied the LPs of Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits. The poster, which is in the MoMa’s permanent collection, featured a font that Glaser designed, called “Baby Teeth.”
In 1977, after New York City went through a fiscal crisis two years prior, the state wanted to bring tourists back, and asked Glaser to design a logo.
According to New York Magazine, “he had had presented an idea to the executives that was okay, and came up with a better one afterwards one in the New Yorkiest place on earth: the backseat of a yellow cab. (Walk? Thank god he didn’t have to.) Four characters, scribbled in red crayon on a torn envelope: I (heart) N Y. It was just off-kilter enough — you tend to read it as ‘I Heart Enn Wye’ on the first try — to be exactly right.”
Fast forward to 2020 and not only have countless t-shirts and mugs been sold, but the same logo can be seen in some of Israel’s tourist shirt shops featuring TLV in stead of NY. The iconic logo is also featured in the MoMa’s permanent collection.
“I’m flabbergasted by what happened to this little, simple nothing of an idea,” Glaser told The Village Voice in 2011 when discussing the reach of his logo.
When speaking with Hadassah Magazine about the logo in 2009, Glaser said called the design "a little puzzle."
“There is a complete word, ‘I.’ There is a symbol for an emotion, which is the heart, and there are initials for a place. These require three little mental adjustments to understand the message. But they are so easy to achieve that there is very little possibility that somebody won’t be able to figure it out,” he told Hadassah Magazine.
In 2010, then-US president Barak Obama presented Glaser with a National Medal of Arts.
Glaser was born in Brooklyn to Jewish Hungarian immigrants Eugene and Eleanor (Bergman) Glaser, on June 26, 1929.
"My mother was extremely supportive,” Glaser told Hadassah about his parents' reaction to his wanting to be an artist. "My father, a tailor who had a store in the area, resisted. He didn’t think I could make a living. He wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer."
While Glaser did not consider himself observant at the time of the Hadassah article, he did say that “part of my ideas come more from my Jewish background than my American background,”adding that the “idea of generosity toward others comes from my Jewish heritage.”
In a 2014 interview with Inc. Magazine Glaser discussed how he discovered his love of drawing and design.
“I knew that I was going to spend my life making things when my cousin came in to babysit for me when my parents were going out. He had a brown paper bag with him. We sat down in the living room, and he said, ‘You want to see a bird?’ And I thought he had a bird in the bag, and I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he reached in and he pulled out a pencil. He drew a bird on the side of the paper bag."
Glaser continued, "it was like receiving the stigmata. Suddenly, I almost fainted with the realization that you could create life with a pencil. And at that moment, I decided that's how I was going to spend my life. And as it turns out, that's how I have spent my life.”