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One Yellow

Why are Yellow’s Trucks Orange?

The Yellow Team | Nov. 3, 2022

    It’s a good question and one we get asked all the time. The answer goes back to Yellow’s origins and commitment to safety.


    For more than 90 years, tractor-trailers bearing the Yellow name and logo have been a familiar sight on U.S. highways and byways. 


    Many motorists, at some point, have glanced at the distinctive logo on the back or side of a Yellow trailer and thought to themselves, “The name of the company is Yellow, so why is that truck orange?” 


    It’s a good question, one that’s seen a resurgence since the 2021 rebranding of YRC Freight as Yellow, and the return of the classic Yellow logo to trucks and trailers across the country. 


    So, we’re here to set the record straight – the orange you see on Yellow trucks and trailers is not an illusion and it’s not a mistake. In fact, there’s a long and interesting history behind it. 

    It’s hard to tell from this photo, but Yellow trucks were Swamp Holly Orange by the 1930s. (Photo credit: Oklahoma Historical Society)

    The Beginnings of Yellow and Swamp Holly Orange


    To understand why Yellow became orange, it helps to know how our company got its name.


    Yellow Transit Freight Lines was formed in 1924 in Oklahoma City by brothers Cleve and A.J. Harrell. For a few years, it was affiliated with the Yellow Cab Co., which Cleve Harrell had started in 1906 and which was also based in Oklahoma City. The cab company was called “Yellow” because that was the color of its taxi cabs, which became iconic in New York City, Chicago and other cities across the country. 


    Eventually, the Harrell brothers ended their partnership and A.J. Harrell took full control of Yellow’s freight business in 1942. He sold the company 10 years later to a group led by George E. Powell Sr., who moved Yellow’s headquarters to Kansas City. 


    Not long after he co-founded Yellow Freight Lines, A.J. Harrell set out to find a color that would make Yellow’s trucks more visible on the road. According to author Kent Politsch’s 1999 book about the company, Legends and Legacy, Harrell was concerned about the safety of his employees and equipment.


    “Travel between cities from 1924 to 1944 was nearly all on two lanes,” Politsch wrote. “Trucks and cars shared the same narrow and poorly marked pathways. Even the most sophisticated highway in Yellow Transit territory – Route 66 – was never more than three lanes, the center lane for passing.” 


    Harrell enlisted the help of chemical company E.I. DuPont’s paint division for a recommended color that would be more visible on the road, regardless of weather conditions or the time of day. The winning color was one that DuPont coined “Swamp Holly Orange.” Soon, Yellow’s entire fleet of cabs and trailers bore the eye-catching color, all in the name of greater safety.


    “(Harrell) left a legacy and more than a few legends. Perhaps the most notable is the mystery that surrounds the apparent contradiction between the company’s name and color,” wrote Politsch, who once worked in corporate communications for Yellow.

    Yellow cabs remained orange well into the 1990s.

    A Common Question Even Today


    Vice President of External Affairs Mike Kelley has worked at Yellow for over 22 years. He vividly remembers seeing his first Yellow truck as a 10-year-old riding with his mother. 


    “I asked, ’Mom that truck says its name is Yellow but it’s colored orange. Why is that?’” Kelley recalled. “She just laughed and said, ‘I don’t know.’”


    Kelley said his mother remembered that exchange years later, which he started working for Yellow. 


    He’s one of many people to ponder Yellow’s color choice. At different times, Yellow has even embraced the confusion. For a time, some company Yellow drivers wore T-shirts that read “Color Blind since 1926.”


    “It’s definitely something that people wonder about,” Kelley said. “I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me that question.” 


    James Nelson, manager of sales planning & support, believes the special shade of orange says a lot about the company’s commitment to safety, which has remained constant throughout its 90-plus years.


    “Safety is our number one priority today and we started talking about safety back in the 1920s,” said Nelson, who has worked 33 years for Yellow.


    Vehicle technology and U.S. highways have come a long way since the 1920s. Brightly colored tractor-trailers are no longer considered to be a key safety precaution.  


    The dominant color on Yellow’s trucks today is white. However, the recent rebranding of the fleet includes the iconic Yellow logo emblazoned in – you guessed it – Swamp Holly Orange. 


    So, the old question from confused motorists, customers and children remains relevant today, as Yellow transforms into a super-regional LTL carrier under a single name and banner. It’s worth noting that one of the company’s core values – Safety – was the driving force behind that long-ago decision.


    “As we’re becoming One Yellow and as we’re rebranding our equipment, I think It’s a great time to talk about it again,” Kelley said. “And it’s fun. It’s who we are.”

    The Yellow logo, pictured here in the 1980s, returned with the 2021 rebranding.

    Proud to be Yellow


    Returning to the Yellow name was just the first step in a continuing transformation from four trucking brands (YRC Freight, Reddaway, Holland and New Penn) into one super-regional LTL carrier. To learn more about how we are combining our services and creating greater efficiencies for our customers, visit our One Yellow Journey page

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