What is the History of the Peace Sign?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Throughout history, numerous visual images have symbolized peace. These include images of doves, olive branches, broken rifles and the sign language V used first by hippies to represent both peace and love. One peace sign that is recognizable to many is the peace sign designed by Gerald Holtom. It is the familiar round circle with a line down the middle and two slanted lines, about half the length of the vertical line. The slanted lines attach to the vertical line, slightly below its direct middle, and continue to the perimeter of the circle.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace and reconciliation.
The olive branch is a symbol of peace and reconciliation.

This particular peace sign may also be called the peace symbol, and it may be referred to as the CND. Initially, Holtom designed the sign in 1958 for the Direct Action Committee Against Nuclear War (DAC). British advocates for nuclear disarmament formed the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and used Holtom’s sign as a badge. While the sign initially stood for nuclear disarmament, it quickly became a symbol for peace, adopted in the 1960s by the strong anti-war and counterculture movement occurring in both England and the US. Buttons with the peace sign first made their way to the US in 1960.

If you’re familiar with semaphore, the use of flag movement and hand positions to signal letters that can be understood from a distance, the peace sign makes sense. It incorporates the semaphore positions for the letters N and D and stands specifically for nuclear disarmament. Additionally, Holtom suggested the interior lines were that of a person, standing with arms down in a despairing pose. The person Holtom drew was representative of his own position on the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and also references the 1808 painting by Francisco Goya, The Third of May.

In Goya’s painting, a peasant kneels before a firing squad. However, his arms are slanted upward instead of down. The peasant is clearly not resigned to his imminent death and faces the soldiers with a level gaze. The body position of the peasant suggests defiance, and not the despair Holtom’s “arm’s down” pose represents in the peace sign.

Not all appreciated Holtom’s peace sign. Some suggested it stood for the anti-Christ, and represents an upside down cross with broken arms. People who felt that anti-war groups called for peace out of cowardice have called the peace sign the footprint of the American chicken.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


Just like some of the commenters on this page, I think that people take the use of symbology too seriously sometimes. There are many symbols in history that have been used for many different things, and I think that the peace sign has transitioned from a specific symbol of protest of denuclearization of the world and come into a new meaning of a much more general sense.

Because of this cultural understanding in transition, we must make new exceptions for the use of such symbols as the peace sign in modern-day popular jewelry where. This isn't to discount what all the activists and hard work citizens data during the civil rights movements of the 1960s, but it is to say that symbology and meanings of different symbols change.


When I was a protester in the year 1969 we can use peace signs in inappropriate means sure we would plaster them all over posters but never would we degrade the quality of the meaning of what a peace sign represents.

I think that is the part that bugs me most about people's use of peace sign jewelry. I know so many people who fought so hard to represent an ideology of pacifism That was destroyed by the free market creating a toy and taking advantage of the symbology that so many worked so hard to create.

Please consider the next time that you are shopping for jewelry to maybe not buy a peace sign or if you do at least understand what it is that the peace sign means.


To me it's amazing how much people have capitalized on the use of peace signs and made trinkets and other types of marketing materials to take advantage of the clouds that this symbol Hass. I think major peace advocates would be very disappointed now to see just exactly how popular in mainstream this symbol has become a modern-day fashion.

Peace sign charms and peace sign jewelry are just a few of the things that are offered you all can go to any mall and find kiosks that sell cheesy peace sing necklaces and peace sign pendants. But it doesn't just stop there other things like peace sign bracelets are just some of the peacetime jewelry that you will be able to see around any kind of popular fashion store.


Despite what the historical reference and origins of what the peace sign came from, I do think that there is a significant amount of respect for what the symbol means today. Even though it is a Harte-Hanks assignment comes from a generation or two before the now youthful generation, it's use of among the youth is extremely high.

Generally speaking teams and other popular age groups will often use the peace symbol as a means for showing their thoughts and political ideology. The piece I is a simple way for teens and others to do this. The reason is because it summarizes very basically and without extra words exactly how they feel.

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