Hockey is like warfare without the casualties or consequences. So it’s fitting that the Chicago Blackhawks were born out of war.
In September 1926, a former army officer turned coffee tycoon, Major Frederic McLaughlin, purchased the Western Canada Hockey League’s Portland Rosebuds and moved the team and its players to his hometown of Chicago. McLaughlin had the presence of mind to realize that in a sport predicated on physicality—then even more so than now—nobody would cheer for a team called the Rosebuds. Fortunately, the Major had a replacement in mind.
During the First World War, McLaughlin was training in Rockport, Ill., with the 86th Infantry Division, known as… the Blackhawks. The unit got its name from a famed Sauk Native American warrior and leader, Chief Black Hawk, who sided with the British during the War of 1812 and earned his reputation with tactical yet ruthless battle techniques.
The division’s colours—black and red—were adopted, and McLaughlin’s wife, Irene Castle, a famous dancer and fashion designer, set to work designing the logo—a Native American profile (though not a depiction of Black Hawk himself) inked with war paint and a multicoloured headdress covering the back of his scalp. The logo, while slightly refined and touched up over the years, remains virtually the same today, one of hockey’s most recognizable. The Blackhawks’ sweater has changed since the ’20s, having first been adorned with a series of black, red and white horizontal stripes, later with more solid lines, and eventually finding the perfect arrangement of stripes around the bottom and on the sleeves. But it’s the modern sweater—simple solid red with the Native American crest on the chest and a shoulder patch with a “C” covered by two crossed tomahawks—that warrants the Hawks’ inclusion so high on this list. It has remained virtually unchanged since 1955. Six decades of continuity speaks volumes for the quality of the design.
The sweater is more than a uniform. It’s an icon, just like the greats of days gone by—Bobby Hull, Glenn Hall, Stan Mikita—and the Blackhawk heroes of today—Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith—who have brought Stanley Cup glory to the Windy City in the 87 years since the franchise was born. And every winter, each new crop of players will put on the uniform and prepare for war.
This story originally appeared in Sportsnet magazine. Subscribe here.