Nuclear Disarmament and the Peace Symbol

Nancy Meyer

The ubiquitous circular graphic called the Peace Symbol appears in popular culture on everything from earrings to bumper stickers. Everyone has seen it, almost everyone has displayed it, but few people know its origin.


The Peace Symbol was originally created to support nuclear disarmament in February, 1958, by a British artist named Gerald Holtom. It was first used in a large public display of 500 signs at the April 1958 Aldermaston March sponsored by the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War. The symbol was adopted by the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament as their official emblem.

Antinuclear movements have arisen at least twice since the creation of the Peace Symbol.  In Holtom’s time, from the late 1950s to early in 1960s, nuclear test ban movements arose at nuclear testing grounds in the world.  Twenty years later, from the late 1970s to 1980s, antinuclear movements swelled in Western Europe, where citizens protested the deployment of nuclear weapons by US Forces.  Their slogan was “Euroshima”, which meant “Never Again Hiroshima in Europe”.   The symbol has thus become firmly established as an international symbol of peace since the Cold War era.

While the Peace Symbol has become recognizable worldwide to simply represent “peace” its original meaning remains embedded in the design.

How it was Made

Holtom simply overlaid two semaphore depictions of the letters “N” and “D” for Nuclear Disarmament to create the familiar center.

Next, he simplified the human figures into straight lines. Finally, he drew a circle around the result, and the now iconic emblem was born.

Holtom was a conscientious objector in WWII who intentionally never copyrighted the design. Importantly, this universally recognized symbol of peace has resisted copyright attempts to this day; it remains free for all to use. This has undoubtedly contributed to its omnipresence in popular culture for over 60 years.

You can learn more about Gerald Holtom here. To find out more details about the history of the Peace Symbol, click here or here. To learn about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, click here.