“In the Beginning” – The WGBH Logo (1956)

Reading Time: 3 minutes

What does this image really mean, and how did it become the WGBH logo?

Peter Hollander reminds us that his wife, Lilly, station art director from 1956 to 1958, first proposed use of the pictogram that became the WGBH logo, and remained so for many years.

What it means

Rudolph Koch, in his “Book of Signs,” explains the derivation of the image thusly:

The woman, couples with….

The man….

And begets children….

Combined, they constitute “the family.”

From Steve Gilford

Towards the end of the ’60s, the WGBH symbol made a comeback. Once again, the little black decals with the gold stick figure design were given to people who became WGBH members to be placed on the windshields of their cars.

The curious were told that the design was really an Aztec ideograph, a complex symbol meaning “family.” I had always liked the odd little design, so as soon as they became available, I put one on my motorcycle’s windshield.

That particular year, I was on a vacation trip. Somewhere on the plains of eastern Colorado, I rode into a gas station on my motorcycle and began to fill the gas tank. There was a car on the other side of the pump island. I noticed it had Nebraska plates.

A cocky young man walked over and looked at the black decal, then he looked at me, and looked again at the decal before he asked, “What is that?”

I figured I’d put him in his place. Aware of the disparity between my motorcycle appearance and what I was saying, I spouted, “It is an Aztec ideograph made up of several different elements, Man, Woman, Children, all combined in a single symbol, family.” Satisfied that I had given him an impressive enough explanation that would put an end to what I felt was his supercilious curiosity, I stopped.

He smiled, turned around to the car with the Nebraska plates and called out, “I told you so!!”

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