Donal McLaughlin and the UN Emblem, Redux

The original emblem of the United Nations has to be one of the more unusual and unexpected products of the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS) and its Presentation Branch. One of the various supplementary designs prepared by the Presentation Branch team to support the San Francisco conference where the UN Charter was signed, the UN emblem was created as the basis for a lapel pin. Designed primarily by Donal McLaughlin, an architect by training who was serving as Chief of Graphics in the Presentation Branch, the pin became the basis for the organisation’s official logo in 1946.

Most versions of the story that I’ve seen reference a little privately printed book published by McLaughlin in 1995. I figured I’d never see a copy unless I worked pretty hard to locate one, but the CIA and UN Archives have now put a digitized copy online.

McLaughlin’s brief book includes some sketches of proposed and discarded alternatives. I’ve written about the UN emblem’s use of an azimuthal projection as a way to present a map while avoiding some of the problems of representation that more practical maps would have created. McLaughlin’s narrative confirms some of this. Considered and discarded was an orthographic global projection (McLaughlin’s comment: “Eastern hemisphere gets the short end of this design”) and two overlapping hemispheric projections (“Hackneyed – made famous on the Gulden’s Mustard label”). He also mentions the connection between earlier air age cartography:

Of all the world projections, the most appropriate was the azimuthal equidistant one, wherein all lad masses are shown on one circle. We had used it earlier, around the time of El Alamein, when the course of the war was going against the Allies and Wendell Wilkie made his famous One World speech. We were doing charts for air distances for bombing, as I remember it, and wherever you went had to be approach via the North Pole.

The book also has a few comments on the other work the Presentation Branch did at the conference, such as brochures, memorial plaques, city maps, sound recordings, and photography. OSS also provided the scenography for the plenary session, with four pylons on stage to represent Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms. Interestingly, McLaughlin mentions that the State Department did not want the Presentation Branch to provide each committee with a designer to produce accurate visual aids for the discussion, since they expected ambiguity would be necessary to come to a diplomatic agreement.

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