The history of the Peace symbol

nuclear disarment peace symbol banner

It's one of the most widely known symbols in the world

The CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) symbol started life as the emblem of the British anti-nuclear movement but over the years it has become an international sign for peace.

The symbol for CND was designed in 1958 by the late British designer Gerald Holtom (1914-1985).

Holtom was responsible for designing the banners and placards that were to be carried on the march. He wanted to design a graphic symbol that would reinforce the message of the thousands of protesters who took part in a 50-mile march from London to Aldermaston in Berkshire.

nuclear disarment march London

Holtom originally considered using the Christian cross symbol within a circle but, instead, settled on using letters from the flag semaphore alphabet, super-imposing N (uclear) on D (isarmament) and placing them within a circle symbolising Earth.

Nuclear disarment peace sign flag semaphore alphabet

He later wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, and gave a different, more personal explanation for his idea.

“I was in despair. Deep despair. I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant before the firing squad. I formalised the drawing into a line and put a circle round it. It was ridiculous at first and such a puny thing.”
nuclear disarment peace logo original

In Holtom’s personal notes, the designer recalls then turning the design into a badge. "I made a drawing of it on a small piece of paper the size of a sixpence and pinned it on to the lapel of my jacket and forgot it," he wrote. "In the evening I went to the post office. The girl behind the counter looked at me and said, 'What is that badge you are wearing?' I looked down in some surprise and saw the ND symbol pinned on my lapel. I felt rather strange and uneasy wearing a badge. 'Oh, that is the new peace symbol,' I said. 'How interesting, are there many of them?' 'No, only one, but I expect there will be quite a lot before long.'"

nuclear disarment original first badge

In the U.K. the symbol has remained the logo of CND since the late 1950s, but internationally it has taken on a broader message signifying peace.

Banksy peace

CND has never registered the sign as a trademark, arguing that "a symbol of freedom, it is free for all". It has now appeared on millions of mugs, T-shirts, rings and bizarrely, it has also made an appearance on packets of Lucky Strike cigarettes.


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