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The Creation of a Symbol

Page history last edited by Chelsea Williams 13 years, 7 months ago

Design History      


     Threat of nuclear attack prompted the nation to be on high alert. The Cold War in the United States caused many families to create bomb shelters in their back yard. Conspiracy theories began to emerge and there was a general unrest among the public. The crucial need for peace and security was at a new high during the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. This same threat was present in Great Britain where tensions were worse following the bombings by Germans in London (Kosbun, 26). In 1956, British leaders announced that Christmas Island would be the location of a Hydrogen bomb test (Kosbun, 26). This prompted immediate formation of many peace activist groups to try to protect their lives and the lives of millions. Peace activist leaders Quaker Steel, Michael Randle and Hugh Brock formed the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War by the late summer of 1957 (Kosbun, 29). The Direct Action Committee, later more popularly known as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) had decided to hold their first walk for peace during the weekend of Easter in 1968. The walk would follow the route from London to Aldermaston, ending at a nuclear arms plant (Campaign).  This three day march was intended to make weapons manufacturing workers aware of their involvement in a destructive cause. CND wanted to share their “principles of truth and nonviolence” with others (Rigby, 477).


     CND had planned to create a logo that the masses could carry and identify with in order to unite people in the idea of peace. They hired an artist named Gerald Holtom to create a graphic representation of the campaign’s argument. Holtom wanted to design a symbol that would promote a sense of responsibility within each person (Rigby, 477).  Initial design concepts included the use of a Christian cross. It was decided that this would be associated with representations of crusades and tyranny (Rigby, 477). The use of a dove was also declined for its associations with the horrific acts of Stalin. Holtom eventually described himself as having “fallen into despair” and that is what he drew; palms of his hands outstretched downwards. He then enclosed the drawing in a circle. Holtom described the initial drawing as “ridiculous and puny” (Rigby, 477). The design eventually became a visual representation of the “N” and “D” featured in Nuclear Disarmament, as signaled through the naval flag language called semaphore (Miles, 77). 





     Holtom believed his first attempt at a logo would “never catch on” but he proceeded to create badges and lollipop signs to test the symbol’s reception. It was not long before Holtom realized the symbol was not provoking the response he wanted and he realized that if the design were flipped, it could imply the tree of life; an image associated with “hope and resurrection” (Rigby, 478).






     According to a letter written by the General Secretary of  CND, Holtom had originally designed and argued that the symbol should always be depicted in black and white only; however, many alternate colors and designs would eventually arise (Duff, 1). The original design became a success on that first Easter day walk. The simplicity of the black and white was eye catching and profound in its meaning. No misinterpretation could result because of color associations with other groups and meanings. The letter from the Secretary also reflects this profund and simple meaning of the symbol, stating that Holtom as well as other groups were "insistent" on this color pallete, fighting to protect the integrity and meaning of Holtom's design (Duff, 1).


Beginning Use of the Peace Sign


     Following the Easter day walk, the CND officially adopted the peace symbol as their logo by the end of 1958. The Easter day walk would become the first large spread use of the peace symbol. Because it occurred on a Christian holiday, Holtom expressed his interest in having the symbol designed in black and white for Friday and Saturday but green and white on Sunday and Monday to represent “From Winter to Spring, from Death to Life” (Kosbun, 36).


     CND continued to grow into a worldwide movement that would stretch to the United States. Badges began to be made, first produced by Eric Austin. He designed the badges out of white clay with a black peace symbol painted on it. He described that if a nuclear attack were to occur, “these fired pottery badges would be among the few human artifacts to survive the nuclear inferno” (Campaign). The worldwide pride for the symbol and the efforts for peace would only continue to grow over the years, wanting their efforts to last for generations to come.





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