A Piece of Our Time

The peace symbol is 50 years old and still working. What has made it so durable?

Henry Diltz / Corbis

Just like Madonna and Michelle Pfeiffer, the peace symbol is turning 50 this year. When an icon turns that age, you can start making some judgments about whether it has what it takes to endure. Madonna? Hanging in there. Pfeiffer? We'll see. But the peace symbol--it's 50 years young and going strong.

By now, the little sectioned circle has become so familiar, it feels as if it had no genesis, that it just emerged out of a collective folk culture, like the Star of David or a nursery rhyme. But in fact it can be traced to a single inventor, Gerald...