The most famous postwar logo without commercial purpose — or, at least, intended commercial purpose — the peace symbol, turns 50 on Thursday.
Half a century ago, a British textile designer came up with an idea for protest signs for a march on a nuclear weapons facility: they would be the size and shape of an extra-large pizza bearing nothing more than a upside-down V with line through the middle, rendered white on black and mounted on wood laths.
These “lollypops,” as the designer called them, would be lightweight and look great on TV, he said. Seen often enough, they would trumpet the message of nuclear disarmament without the need for cumbersome words.
Adopted with stunning speed by dozens of counterculture movements in the 1960s, its message expanded and now most people see it as a generic symbol of peace, adaptable to almost any pacifist cause.
Gerald Holtom’s pacifist credentials were well established by 1958 — born at the outset of the First World War, he was a conscientious objector during the Second World War, which he served out doing “useful work” as a farm labourer. He moved from designing textiles to sailboats before his death in 1985.
His symbol, he said, was a stylized version of two figures from the semaphore flag signalling system: flags held downward and diagonally away from the body (the semaphore signal for “N”) and flags pointing directly up and directly down (the semaphore signal for “D”). N and D for Nuclear Disarmament.
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