A symbol of hope and serenity, as well as a reminder of the cultural movements of the 60s, the peace sign is an iconic image. Wearing this inspires tranquility, even when facing difficulties and opposition. But where does this abstract symbol come from, and why does it signify peace? If you’re curious about the origins of the peace sign, enjoy the history below!
What we now know as the peace sign was originally designed in 1958 for the nuclear disarmament movement. The British artist Gerald Holtom created the symbol for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC) in opposition to the looming Cold War. The symbol was inspired by semaphore letters—an alphabet used to signal ships by holding flags in different poses—and the finished design combines the semaphore signs for N and D, for “nuclear Disarmament”.
Holtom was also inspired by Goya’s classical painting of a peasant with his hands out in front of a firing squad, another piece of art opposed to destruction and war. As he explained in a letter to Peace News, “I drew myself: the representative of an individual in despair, with hands palm outstretched outwards and downwards in the manner of Goya’s peasant… I formalized the drawing into a line and put a circle around it.” Holtom decided not to copyright the symbol so that it would be free to all.
Use and Meanings
While initially about opposition to nuclear weapons, the power and simplicity of the image grew to have a much more profound significance as a symbol of peace and hope for all. 60s struggles for civil rights, women’s equality, and opposition to the Vietnam War saw the symbol picked up by activists, hippies, and peaceful protestors. It would appear prominently at the Woodstock Festival’s “three days of peace and music.”
Though the symbol is sometimes used as a simple fashion statement today, it continues to appear wherever there is opposition to hatred, violence, and destruction. Peaceful protestors and activists all around the world use the symbol to promote reconciliation, harmony, and hope against darkness. Spiritual and secular movements that believe in world peace are still proud to display the peace sign.
Many of us feel overwhelmed by personal discord and by the state of the world, but the peace sign continues to remind us of the power of tranquility and optimism. Our peace sign charm is perfect for anyone who feels a kinship with the icons of the 60s who believed in inner harmony and artistic expression above all else.
Consider getting this charm for any musicians or artists in your life to encourage their creative expression. This charm is also a great gift for anyone struggling to express themselves, or who needs support and serenity in a chaotic time.
I loved learning about the rich history of the peace sign. I had no idea about the symbolism and love especially the downward “hands out and palms up” design. Thank you Chelsea, that was a well written piece showcasing a bit of iconic art for the ages!