The story behind the formation of the famous triangle logo
In 1878, the Eighth Conference of the World Alliance of YMCAs met in Geneva, Switzerland, and had on its agenda the creation of a “distinctive international badge of the Associations.” The matter was turned over to a committee, and three years later at the Ninth Conference in London, the alliance approved the following: A circle, depicting the oneness of mankind, divided at its outside edge into five segments bearing the names of five parts of the world as they were described at the time – Europe, Asia, Oceania, Africa and America – separated by small decorative scrolls called cartouches “upon which can be read in many languages the initials of our title, YMCA.” Inside the circle are the first two letters of the word Christ. The Greek letters Chi and Rho (XP) form the ancient symbol that early Christians painted on the walls of the catacombs. It was used by the YMCA to remind all that Christ was at the center of the movement. Finally, an open Bible has added “both because this divine book is the weapon of warfare which St. John gives to young men, and because it’s the distinguishing mark of the great Reformation. The Bible opens on the Savior’s High Priestly prayer, from which we have specially chosen the 21st verse: ‘That they all may be one…We are one’ – John 17:21.” Behind the book and symbols was an aura of golden rays. The action on the badge was noteworthy, wrote one YMCA historian, because the phrase “that they all may be one” became the supreme expression of the ecumenical purposes of the World Alliance, pulling together those many sects. Luther H. Gulick, who revolutionized sports and physical fitness at the YMCA, purposed a red equilateral triangle as a symbol in 1891. It was adopted immediately by Springfield College. The sides of the triangle, Gulick said, stood for “an essential unity – spirit, mind and body – each being a necessary and eternal part of man, being neither one alone but all three,” a “wonderful combination of the dust of the earth and the breath of God.”
In 1878, the Eighth Conference of the World Alliance of YMCAs met in Geneva, Switzerland, and had on its agenda the creation of a “distinctive international badge of the Associations.” The matter was turned over to a committee, and three years later at the Ninth Conference in London, the alliance approved the following: Gulick wanted something that would “stick right out” and not be confused with the Red Cross symbol “yet be just as simple and strong.” The red triangle was just that, and it swept the movement, carried around the world by U.S. foreign secretaries. In 1895, the annual convention of the United States & Canadian YMCAs authorized adding the triangle to the old World Alliance insignia. Gullick’s triangle had become the unofficial emblem on athletic jerseys, lapel pins and over the doors of local associations. The resulting design of the official emblem dropped the continents, aura and cartouches along the way, though it’s not clear when that took place.
The superimposed logo, first used in 1896, was registered by the National Board of YMCAs in 1965 with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. In the intervening 69 years, Gulick’s version was revised, with a second ring added inside the rest during the 1950s. It was said that the second ring represented friendship and love without end among individuals. This remains the YMCA’s official emblem.
The everyday logo from 1897 to 1967 was the red triangle. About the time of World War I, a blue bar was placed over it reading “YMCA” and the use of the triangle and bar logo accelerated during the War.
After 70 years of using symbols in various combinations and styles, some felt the need for a change. “We had shaped and reshaped, used and abused our symbol so much that no strong, single corporate identity came through,” said John Root, YMCA of the USA’s general executive said at the time. He asked a Chicago designer to produce a new logo. The result was the triangle and bent bar that looks like the letter Y. It was a combination of modern design and Gulick’s traditional triangle. When the National Board met in November 1967, it approved Root’s new logo for use throughout the movement. It was registered that same year and remains the official logo. Today, 97% of Americans recognize this logo, and it’s the second most recognizable logo in the world (first is McDonald’s arches).