Oct 2, 2009

The United Nations logo

The designer of the logo for the United Nations, Donal McLaughlin, has passed away at 102. Diary readers may recall the news of the day during 1945-46, as the U.N. was being created.

Besides the obvious, enormous challenges the new organization faced, it also needed a permanent location (Connecticut was a front-runner for a while) and--of course--a lapel pin. That's where the 38-year-old McLaughlin entered the picture. Formerly a designer for the Office of Strategic Services (of which, by the way, my father, Dave, was a member), McLaughlin proposed other ideas before hitting upon the one you see above:
The United Nations emblem had a difficult birth. Mr. McLaughlin, in his pamphlet, recalled that the initial task was to fit a pictorial image, along with the words “The United Nations Conference on International Organization, San Francisco, 1945,” on a round button measuring just 1 1/16 inches across.

Rejected prototypes included a globe surrounded by chains intended to represent nations linked in peace. “Linked in peace, but also a world in chains,” Mr. McLaughlin noted. Another image showed a chimneylike brick structure, bound by the “mortar of cooperation,” with an olive branch poking out. “Could be a trademark for the Structural Clay Products Institute,” Mr. McLaughlin wrote.

Eventually Mr. McLaughlin’s idea for a map projection of the continents, with the United States front and center on the vertical axis, won out. Ivan Spear, a team member, softened the image by adding laurel branches, an idea he borrowed from the Philco logo. Mr. McLaughlin, recalling that the laurel symbolized victory, substituted olive branches, a symbol of peace.

On Dec. 7, 1946, Mr. McLaughlin’s design, with slight modifications proposed by him, was adopted as the official United Nations seal and emblem.
As a graphic designer myself, I envy the great opportunity McLaughlin was given and I have tremendous admiration for the work he ultimately created--probably one of the world's most recognizable symbols, and one of the best.


  1. Thank you for this history! Not to be morbid, but one reason I love to read obituaries is that they recall events we've all come to take for granted, never stopping to consider their initial inception...