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