“Peace” is one of the most recognizable symbols in the world: A circle surrounding three lines. But do you know how the peace symbol came to be?
For International Peace Day in September, CNN explained the history behind the peace symbol, which has fairly recent origins. It traces back to 1958 when Gerald Holtom, a designer and a pacifist, wanted to create a symbol for a march in London to protest nuclear weapons. Holtom decided to use the semaphore alphabet, a method of communicating letters via flags that is typically used by sailors.
Holtom chose “n” and “d” for the words “nuclear disarmament.” Semaphore for “n” is to hold both flags out to your side, while “d” is formed by holding one flag straight up and one straight down, creating a straight line. Draw a circle around these two letters and voila, you have the peace sign.
The peace sign originated from the two semaphore letters representing "N" + "D" meaning "nuclear disarmament" pic.twitter.com/9gOFd2GODg
— Noun Project (@nounproject) July 2, 2015
According to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, which first adopted the symbol, Holtom also saw himself in the image.
“I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of [painter Francisco de] Goya’s peasant before the firing squad,” Holtom once wrote. “I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle round it.”
Simple right? According to experts, its simplicity is what makes it so effective as a symbol.
“It’s a minor masterpiece with major evocative power,” design guru and cultural critic Stephen Bayley told CNN. “It speaks very clearly of an era and a sensibility. It is, simply, a fine period piece: the ordinary thing done extraordinarily well.”
Or as Ken Kolsbun, a peace symbol historian, put it in an interview with CNN: “You can have a 5-year-old draw it.”
While the peace sign was originally used to signal nuclear disarmament, use of the symbol has expanded to be associated with anti-war activism and, to an extent, hippie culture. Sixty years after it was originally designed, you can still see the symbol on posters, t-shirts, jewelry and the sides of Volkswagen buses. Because there is nothing better than peace.