Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

CND Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom
Gerald Holtom, 20 Jan 1914 – 18 Sept 1985

Gerald Holtom is likely a name you don’t know. Ironically, you probably do have something he created and if you don’t you would immediately recognize what he designed. The whole world recognizes what he designed.

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

World Annihilation 

By 1958, humans had become capable of destroying all humans and the world as we know it. The United Kingdom and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics had joined the United States in developing nuclear weapon technology. Each continued to develop more powerful bombs as well as ways to deliver them.  France joined the club in 1960.

Many Europeans logically assumed that the next world war would include such weapons.

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom
Sketch of nuclear disarmament symbol by Gerald Holtom (courtesy Commonweal Collection, University of Bradford)

On February 17, 1958 a group called the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had its founding meeting in Westminster, England. Their goal was then and still is now  to eliminate nuclear weapons.

They wanted an image to represent their organization during a planned Easter march.  On February 21,  professor Gerald Holtom presented a symbol he had designed. Holtom was a professional artist and graduate of the Royal College of Arts in London.

It simply communicated two of the organization’s initials: N and D.

In the 19th century flag communication system known as semaphore, the letter N  is represented by holding the two signal flags angled at one’s side:

CND Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom
N in semaphore

The letter D is represented by holding the flags vertically:

CND Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom
D in semaphore

Overlapped and surrounded by a circle they appear thusly:

It is not…

A) a chicken foot.

B) a B-52 bomber.

C) a broken Christian cross

D) nor whatever else someone has told you unless it ‘s the above

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

Peace News

The CDC site expands on the story: [Holtom] later wrote to Hugh Brock, editor of Peace News, explaining the genesis of his idea in greater, more personal depth:

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.”

Holtom had originally considered using the Christian cross symbol within a circle as the motif for the march but various priests he had approached with the suggestion were not happy at the idea of using the cross on a protest march.”

The Third of May, but Francisco Goya
Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

The Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC)  organized the 1958 Aldermaston march at Easter. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament supported it. Several thousand people marched for four days from Trafalgar Square, London, to the Atomic Weapons Establishment to demonstrate their opposition to nuclear weapons.

CND Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

Gerald Holtom

Gerald Holtom was born on January 20, 1914. He died on September 18, 1985…

Gerald Holtom grave (photo by JohnRobert Mauney)

…but of course the symbol he designed nearly continues to be a part of the expression of peace and hope in an atmosphere of irrational aggression.

CND Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

Further reading: Hyperallergic site article

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom

In 2019 the podcast 99% Invisible had an episode entitled: Ubiquitous Icons: Peace, Power, and Happiness. In it, an additional bit of information about the peace symbol came to light. If the symbol is inverted:

The semaphore letter “N” becomes the semaphore letter “U.” Holtom was aware of this possibility and said that the symbol was also one of “Universal Disarmament.”

Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom
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4 thoughts on “Peace Symbol Gerald Holtom”

  1. Thank you for this information on Gerald Holtom.
    I have tattooed my front lawn with the peace symbol, and now, at last, I have factual information to tell people WHY I have done it.

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