Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1958)

It’s one of the most recognisable symbols in history. It is associated with a decade, a group of people and a political campaign. The peace sign was designed by Gerald Holtom in 1958 and is still in use today.

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (1958) by Gerald Holtom

People across the world were shocked and appalled in 1945 when nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan by the US, devastating the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This feeling continued along with anger when the US, UK and Soviet union continued to test these weapons well after WWII had ended. Because of this, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) formed in London in 1958 and held a march with the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC). Around 4 000 people marched between London and the weapons site in 4 days, with the number growing to 10 000 by the end.

The March from London to Aldermaston 1958

At this march they displayed the symbol on their banners and placards. Holtom designed it based on himself and his despair against the nuclear threat. He drew himself with arms down and out like Goya’s peasant before the firing squad then simplified the shape and circled it. This also looked like simplified versions of two letters of the Semaphore Flag Signaling System (seen below). The letters are “N” and “D”, standing for nuclear disarmament. He presented it to the CND and they have used it since.

The Third of May (featuring the peasant before a firing squad) and Letters N and D of the Semaphore Flag Signaling System

After that it was used to protest for peace in the Vietnam war and there became synonymous with hippie culture after they adopted the sign. It then became an international symbol for peace after being picked up by various movements, all protesting against forms of violence and inequality.

Peace sign being used historically and the present day.

Today it is still being used for it’s original purpose, against nuclear weapons and contains the same powerful message it did 60 years ago. The simple, easy to recreate design which has become a universal symbol due do its history. It was never trademarked by the CND which gives it even more powerful. It is a symbol of peace for anyone and everyone.