Created in London in 1958 in response to Britain entering the nuclear arms race, artist Gerald Holtom used semaphore symbols for the letters N and D to represent the letters in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
First used in the United States during the Civil Rights movement, it was imported by Bayard Rustin, a close collaborator of Martin Luther King, Jr. who had participated in the CND IN 1958. The symbol lost its association with nuclear disarmament and generally became known as a symbol promoting peace. With the escalation of the Vietnam War, the symbol was adopted by the counter culture and became an anti-war symbol. The symbol was intentionally kept copyright free, and was taken up by various anti-establishment movements around the world.
For over 60 years, use of the symbol has evolved to represent solidarity with environmental issues, gay rights and women’s issues, as well as being widely used by merchandisers. In 2015, after the deadly attacks in Paris, french artist Jean Jullien, replaced the standard semaphore symbols, with a symbol of the Eiffel Tower, representing solidarity and once again ‘peace’.