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UN Logo Designer Celebrates His Centennial

by Catherine Lyons
United Nations Association of the US

Donal McLaughlin, like any architect, said his wish was to see his designs come to life in brick and stone. Instead, the hallmark of McLaughlin's distinguished career can fit on a button one and one-sixteenth inches in diameter.

McLaughlin, who celebrated his 100th birthday on July 26, designed the lapel pin for the United Nations Conference on International Organization held in San Francisco in 1945. At the time, he had no idea his creation would be a symbol of peace and global cooperation throughout the world.

His design, which is stamped on the UN Charter signed June 26, 1945, remains the emblem of the UN today and one of the most recognizable symbols throughout the world.

McLaughlin, who was working at the State Departments's Office of Strategic Services (OSS) at the time of the conference, said the assignment came to him more by the luck of the draw.

"The previous three years during the war, I was employed by "Wild Bill" Donavan in the OSS as chief of graphics in that division," McLaughlin explained. "The war came to an end and the State Department was planning a meeting of United Nations in San Francisco and th ey asked my boss if they could employ our presentation division to help out there … among the things they needed was an identifying pin for all the delegates."

After McLaughlin and his team of artists drafted about nine different designs, a final illustration was chosen, although not without the breaking of some basic architectural rules, he said.

"The hardest part of the project was fitting the design and copy onto the small, circular pin that was one and one-sixteenth inches in diameter," McLaughlin said. "I did my thesis at Yale involving circular design and when I finished that I swore I'd never do another circular design because everything has to radiate from one center point."

To fix this problem, he drew the globe as an azimuthally equidistant projection so that all the countries of the world could fit into the circle. Then, McLaughlin moved the projection off-center - this final trick made everything fit.

The lapel pin and accompanying Charter displayed a globe projected in a way that showed all the continents surrounded by olive branches to represent peace. The outer edge of the circle had the conference's name, location and date.

"We had been using maps all throughout the war and we picked up on that projection," McLaughlin said. "The idea that we had was to represent one world through this projection."

A year later, the design was changed slightly when voted on by the General20Assembly, he added. "The map was turned a quarter to the left so the east and west were in balance," whereas the logo on the Charter had North America on the centerline and the rest of the world upside down.

The refined design became the official symbol of the United Nations.

Although McLaughlin went on to be a successful architect and worked on many notable projects, such as the designing of the flagship Tiffany and Co. store in Manhattan, this will remain his most outstanding achievement.

"It's the one thing I'm known for," he said. "The hotel I worked on has been torn down already. This button will outlast most of the buildings I worked on. I hope this button is going to continue and our country is going to take the UN more seriously."

About 150 people gathered to celebrate the career, life, and 100th birthday of McLaughlin yesterday at the town hall in his hometown of Garrett Park, Maryland, including the United Nations Association of the National Capital Area.

The chapter, who wrote McLaughlin a special letter commending him for his contribution and wishing him well, delivered the letter to him personally at the party.
"We thought it was a meaningful thing to do, and it seemed a very natural thing for us to do," said Richard Griffis, the chapter's vice president for programs. "We read the letter during the meeting and there were 'oohs' and 'aahs' from the audience and applause at the end."

McLaughlin said he was planning on just enjoying the party thrown in his honor.

"I'm really dazzled by the whole thing, by the whole idea [that my design is seen all around the world]" he said. "I like the idea, of course. I'm very proud of it … I think the United Nations is the only answer for world peace."
Ms. Lyons is a junior at the University of Southern California Annenberg School of Communication and a UNA-USA Publications intern.