Will the Logo for America’s 250th Anniversary Unite the Country?

Estimated read time 5 min read

In an airy conference room high above Manhattan, the designer Sagi Haviv explained the difficulties of creating an elegant logo for the United States’ semiquincentennial.

The first problem was 18 letters long.

“It is a very difficult word,” Mr. Haviv said, veering gracefully around the pileup of prefixes that Congress chose to describe the 250th anniversary of American independence — fast approaching on July 4, 2026.

He said “semiquincentennial” just twice in an hourlong interview about designing graphics for the occasion, each time speeding through its seven syllables — semiquincentennial, semiquincentennial — as if hoping to limit the linguistic sloppiness inflicted on his otherwise sleek operation.

Mr. Haviv, 49, is a partner at Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv, the design studio behind logos for NBC, Mobil and New York University, as well as the star emblem that represented the nation’s bicentennial in 1976. The studio was contacted in March by the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission, the group established by Congress to organize a nationwide commemoration and celebration of the milestone.

Its planning efforts have hit snags. The commission lost a major sponsor, Meta, and its original chair was replaced after a lawsuit from employees accused the commission’s supporting foundation of sexism and mismanagement of funds. It is still wrestling with how to commemorate a nation’s complex history at a time when Americans are deeply divided.

So the design assignment carried some baggage: Might a new logo rehabilitate a damaged planning effort? How about a fractured nation?

The logo, unveiled on Monday, is a continuous red, white and blue ribbon that swoops through the number 250 — neatly sidestepping the “semiquincentennial” conundrum. “America” floats above in custom serif text.

“It’s almost an impossible construction,” Mr. Haviv said of the design, which twists around itself like a Möbius strip. “I think that has an additional level of meaning, because bringing people together today is almost an impossible task, but the result is beautiful.”

The design was, naturally, a democratic process. All 14 members of the studio threw out ideas, suggesting stars, gradients and shades of purple. The team settled on the idea of a festive ribbon like the ones that adorn parade floats and Medals of Honor, and gathered to present sketches to one another in June.

“It’s a humbling moment, because you come to it with your ideas, and you love the things that you’ve created,” Mr. Haviv said. “And then somebody will say, Well, it looks like a body part that you don’t want it to look like.”

They worked through hundreds of sketches by hand, then transported the design into Adobe Illustrator to agonize over details like the curvature of the ribbon in its bottom right corner. The logo was digitally rendered on T-shirts, sheet cakes, coins and baseball caps before its final version was presented to the commission in July.

It remains to be seen whether Americans will appreciate the design, which will first be displayed in person at an anniversary of the Boston Tea Party later this month. But Rob Janoff, the designer of the rainbow Apple logo, is a fan.

Commemorative logos are especially tricky, said Mr. Janoff, who is not affiliated with Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv. Designers have to work around dates and years that are not always graphically compelling, he said. And, he added, American iconography tends to come with political associations.

“It’s flag-waving, but it’s not a flag,” he said. “I think the thing they were successful about was the spirit and motion.”

Rosie Rios, the chair of the U.S. Semiquincentennial Commission and a former U.S. treasurer in the Obama administration, said she did not expect every American to love the design. “What we do hope is that people can think about this as a way to see themselves, and see their state, and see their story in some way reflected.”

The commission was drawn to Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv in part because of the studio’s work creating a logo for the U.S. bicentennial, Ms. Rios said. A 1971 article in The New York Times described that design — five interlocking red, white and blue arches in the shape of a star — as “a striking bit of graphics” when it was featured on stamps.

Tom Geismar, a founding partner of the studio who worked on both the 1976 and 2026 logos, said it was logical for there to be some visual continuity between the two. The 1970s were also a time of upheaval in the United States, he said, as the Vietnam War raged and the country faced a recession and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.

“The issues were different, but there were a lot of issues,” he said.

The symbols that emerge from such tense periods risk being punching bags for the public, but they can endure as signifiers of a country that has weathered tumult. That is what happened with the bicentennial logo, Mr. Geismar said, which appeared directly below the American flag on the first spacecraft to land on Mars.

Mr. Geismar’s ambitions for the semiquincentennial design are no less grand. “Venus would be OK,” he said.

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