ron cobb and the designing of the ecology symbol

Es­ti­mated reading time is 2 min­utes.

THE ECOLOGY SYMBOL has been with us so long that it looks and feels rather an­cient. That it re­sem­bles the Greek letter theta, which has been around for thou­sands of years, cer­tainly helps with its look of an­tiq­uity. In fact, it is less than fifty years old, an­other piece of today that orig­i­nated with the hippie-counterculture move­ment of The Sixties.

The lower-case ‘e’ in­side a circle was de­signed by artist Ron Cobb in 1969 and was quickly adopted by the nascent Earth Day and ecology move­ment as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive symbol.

Even in 1969, Ron Cobb was a legend, his ed­i­to­rial car­toons for the Los An­geles Free Press seemed to find their way into un­der­ground news­pa­pers around the world.


Who would have thought that ed­i­tors of Look mag­a­zine would con­tribute any­thing to the counterculture?


Cobb did not de­sign the symbol for the Earth Day move­ment, which was merely an idea in 1969. The art was done as a front-page il­lus­tra­tion to plug the or­ga­ni­za­tion of a local “ecology ac­tion” group and first ap­peared in No­vember 1969 in the Free Press.


RonCobb EcologySymbol FreePress Nov1969 500

The No­vember 1969 issue of the Los An­geles Free Press led with the ru­mors of Paul Mc­Cart­ney’s death in a an au­to­mo­bile ac­ci­dent three years be­fore. Mort Sahl was still big enough to war­rant front page no­ti­fi­ca­tion of an interview.


RonCobb EcologySymbol poster 600

Sawyer Press, a small printing com­pany in Los An­geles of­fered a 22.5 x 22.5-inch poster of the Cobb page in ei­ther 1969 or ’70. Ap­par­ently, the en­tire first run of posters was on or­ange paper.


RonCobb EcologySymbol 600

I have in­cluded this black and white image for those readers who want to en­large the image and read Cobb’s text.


RonCobb EcologySymbol flag 1500

The April 21, 1970, issue of Look was the mag­a­zine’s first Earth Day issue and in­cluded the now well-known Ecology Flag. (Who would have thought that the ever-staid ed­i­tors of Look would con­tribute any­thing to the counterculture?)

Nearly ubiquitous

The ecology symbol spread around the world, taking hold among en­vi­ron­mental groups every­where. It quickly be­came well known, if not nearly ubiq­ui­tous, and could be found in all the usual places that such a fad would turn up, es­pe­cially on pin-back but­tons. Decades later and it can be found on shirts, bumper stickers, jew­elry, posters, etc.

Thank you, Ron Cobb . . .

Ron Cobb did not de­sign the now ubiq­ui­tous ecology symbol for the Earth Day move­ment. Click To Tweet

RonCobb EcologyFlag EarthDayFlag 800

FEATURED IMAGE: At a#NoKXL (No Key­stone XL Pipeline) Rally held in Wash­ington, DC, on Feb­ruary 17, 2013, a pole flew the Earth Flag, the Ecology Flag, and the DC State­hood Green Party Flag in front of the White House.


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