Many important cosmetic finishes on a vehicle’s body are overlooked, but none so much as the hood ornament. While today it serves as an extra add-on to a car or truck, a closer look into its history reveals that the hood ornament was once an essential part of a vehicle’s mechanism.
Egyptians used hood ornaments before anyone else
Before we get into the nitty-gritty involving the history of the automobile hood ornament - let’s discuss where the idea of the hood ornament even came from. Cosmetic hood adorned objects have been traced all the way back to a chariot originating from King Tutankhamun’s tomb.
In Tutankhamun’s case, his chariot’s ornament was a sun-crested falcon, meant to bring good luck into his life. Of course, the *automobile* hood ornament wouldn’t become popular until the early 1920s with the introduction of internal combustion engines.
Automobile hood ornaments were originally meant to decorate (or hide) exposed radiator caps
Before cars and trucks had internal water pumps, radiator caps were usually mounted outside of the hood and above the grill. Since it was more difficult to regulate engine temperature without a pump, the exposed radiator cap served as an indicator to the driver as to the temperature of the vehicle’s coolant fluid.
Naturally, the need to make this exposed cap look classy gave rise to the first automobile hood ornaments.
Hood ornaments as art pieces
Eventually, as vehicles evolved more sophisticated methods of regulating engine temperature, the exposed radiator cap was no longer required on the hood as it had been. This didn’t spell the end of the hood ornament, however. Cosmetic “car mascots” soon replaced the functional hood ornament and become more of a method of self expression than a required part of the vehicle.
Entire companies such as Smith’s, Louis Lejeune Ltd., and Desmo stepped up to fill the demand for more intricately designed ornaments. Sadly, Smith’s and Desmo are now out of business while Louis Lejeune Ltd. still survives and continues to create “car mascots” to fit vehicles from all around the world.