Last modified: 2013-11-23 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: uno | united nations organization | honor flag | four freedoms flag | peace flag stamp | map: world | wreath (white) | mclaughlin (donal) |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors
image by Željko Heimer based on images drawn by Graham Bartram
image by Željko Heimer based on images drawn by Graham Bartram
The blue color is taken from a UN logo at its website at www.un.org
- Pantone (PMS 279).
The flag is given as 2:3 or 3:5 or the same ratio as the national flag of the country. A light blue flag with the white emblem in the middle. The emblem consists of a circular map of the earth in azimuthal equidistant projection centered at the North Pole between two olive branches.
Željko Heimer, 2 December 2003
In Webster's Concise Encyclopedia of Flags & Coats of Arms, ed. Crampton, reprint 1985:
UN: In the center of a light blue field there is the white badge of the UN - a simplified map of the world between the North Pole and 60 degrees south with all the inhabited continents shown in outline. The map is flanked by two olive branches... Blue and white are the colors of the UN, the olive branches symbolize world peace, and the map of the world shows the extent of the UN's sphere of influence.Jarig Bakker, 21 June 1999
The map projection used is Azimuthal Equidistant, centred at the North
Pole. As a consequence the parallels shown (which correspond to
latitudes of 60 and 30 degrees South, Equator, and 30 and 60 degrees
North) are concentric circles and the ratio of their radii is simply
5:4:3:2:1. Also shown are eight meridians (corresponding to the
longitudes divisible by 45 degrees); the international 0 and
180 degrees meridians are shown vertically.
I believe that this map projection was chosen because in contrast to traditional world maps, no particular nation is emphasized.
Jeppe Stig Nielsen, 25 October 2000
I. DIMENSIONS OF FLAG
(1) In pursuance to article 1 of the Flag Code the proportions of the United Nations Flag shall be:
(a) Hoist (width) of the United Nations Flag-2
Fly (length) of the United Nations Flag-3;
(b) Hoist (width) of the United Nations Flag-3
Fly (length) of the United Nations Flag-5;
(c) The same proportions as those of the national flag of any country in which the United Nations Flag is flown.
(2) The emblem shall in all cases be one half of the hoist of the United Nations flag and entirely centered.
Quoted from the US Navy's "Flags, Pennants, and Customs," NTP 13(B), which for some reason best known to its compilers quotes the UN Flag Code in its entirety, despite the fact that by US regulations the UN flag can be flown aboard US Navy ships and US military installations only to honor a senior UN official paying a visit (as one would fly a foreign flag for a foreign head of state).
Joe McMillan, 10 January 2001
The webpage http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/maplib/flag.html provides more information:
A/106 (1946) is a report of the Secretary General to the General Assembly,
dated 15 October 1946. It is a discussion of the need for a symbol, and says
"The present symbol which now appears on the Charter of the United Nations, as
well as on badges, passes, letterheads, etc., of the United Nations is a
modification of the design created by members of the Presentation Branch of the
United States Office of Strategic Services in April 1945, in response to a
request for a button design for the San Francisco Conference. This design may be
described as follows." There follows the description of the map, including the
colors, "in gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white." The
Secretary General goes on, however: "In connection with the adoption of an
official seal and emblem for the United Nations, however, it is important to
emphasize the fact that the United Nations is not committed to the use of this
or any other particular design."
A/204 (1946) is the Sixth Committee's report to the General Assembly on the seal and emblem, dated 2 December 1946. It recommends that the Assembly adopt the design with the colors specified in the same terms as the device previously used. (The main difference is that the map was expanded to cover the entire world, insofar as that is possible with a polar projection.) However, the actual resolution proposed for adoption by the Assembly does not stipulate the colors, but only "the design reproduced below."
It was this resolution that was read on the floor in the General Assembly on 7 December and unanimously adopted:
"Mr. Bailey (Australia), Rapporteur: On behalf of the Sixth Committee I read the following resolution: "The General Assembly, "1. Recognizes that it is desirable to approve a distinctive emblem of the United Nations and to authorize its use for the official seal of the Organization; "Resolves therefore that the design reproduced below shall be the emblem and distinctive sign of the United Nations and shall be used for the official seal of the Organization."
"The design reproduced below" was a black and white drawing with no indication of colors on it. The printed text of the resolution as adopted is reproduced at http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/033/43/IMG/NR003343.pdf.
Joe McMillan, 23 September 2008
I have found an official UN source
that reports that the color is indeed Pantone 279. The UN source is at
Zachary Harden, 22 September 2008
Based on http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/maplib/flag.html provides more information:
I think we must conclude that, whatever the intention of the design
committee, the General Assembly did not specify any colors for the UN emblem,
and that smoke-blue is therefore of historic interest only as the color of the
original, unofficial emblem provided by the OSS. The description on the emblem
http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/maplib/flag.html is therefore misleading,
drawing as it does from documents that were never approved by the General
Assembly. In any case, none of the documents on the UN flag refer to smoke blue,
only to "light blue."
Joe McMillan, 23 September 2008
From what I remember, the light blue background was chosen as an internationally neutral color - the color of the sky as seen from every nation on Earth.
Dylan Crawfoot, 21 June 1999
2:3 image by Željko Heimer
The Flag Code of the United Nations, in pdf format can be found at
http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/maplib/docs/stsgb132.pdf. It provides primary
source material for a number of details. Its reference is ST/SGB/132 and is
dated 01 January 1967.
Dates and applicable UN Resolutions are as follows:
The Flag Code covers such matters as Design of flag (Article 1), Dignity of
flag (2), Flag protocol (3), Use of the flag by the UN and its agencies (4), Use
of flag generally (Use of flag in military operations (Article 8), Manufacture
and sale of flag (Article 9), Violation (Article 10), Regulations (Article 11).
The provisions of the Regulations are similar: Dimensions of flag (I), Flag protocol (II), Use of flag generally (III), Prohibitions (IV), Mourning (V), Manufacture (VI) Alphabetical order (VII), followed by a Schedule of member nations at that date, in the English alphabetical order and a note stating that the laws of a member state should prevail in respect of any conflict which might exist.
The UN's organisation chart can be found here: http://www.un.org/aboutun/chart.html. This chart also contains a link to each organisation's web site, so as to aid those who might be interested in investigating the meaning of the many acronyms used by the UN.
(1) United Nations, Department of Public Information, Dag Hammarskj ld Library, Flag Code of the United Nations, as consulted web site, http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/ 29 August 2006
(2) United Nations, Organization Chart of the United Nations, as consulted UN Web site http://www.un.org/english/index.shtml 29 August 2006
Colin Dobson, 31 August 2006
As of 28 June 2006, following the addition of Montenegro, 192 independent nations were members of the United
Two countries, generally accepted as independent, are not: Taiwan, Holy See
See the page on Dependent States for other "countries" that are of course not members of the UN.
A light blue roundel with the white emblem. Note explains that the
organization flag is painted on the fin. (Album des Pavillons,
Željko Heimer, 2 December 2003
Cochrane and Elliott (1998) says on page
127, showing the same roundel as in Album 2000:
"UN aircrafts are normally painted white overall and carry the large black lettering 'UNITED NATIONS' or 'UN', and the [UN] flag as a fin flash. [...] There has been some use of the UN emblem as a wing roundel, and recently an increasing use of the national flag of the donor country, usually marked on a fin, smaller then that of the UN."
It also says that the first use of the UN forces was in Israeli war of 1948, though it does not really suggests that the roundels were used already.
Željko Heimer, 3 December 2003
Here is a picture for reference. The
depicted LearJet-55 is tasked for 'fast liaison- and Medivac-/Casevac-missions'
on behalf of the UN. That is what is written in the contract, at least; mostly
VIP in reality. I wasn't in the company when we started contracting for the UN,
but I know that this paint- and marking-scheme was used right from the
beginning. It is not according to the UN-rules, however: only 'UN', 'United
Nations", the registration (here "D-CMAX") and the UN-call sign (here "452",
hence "UN452") are to be shown. The crest was my company's idea (having NOT read
the regulations, I was told...).
Anyway, none of the UN-big-wigs ever really complained about it (actually: they love it). Our Lears (there are presently 5 of them) all carry the crest, and, to my information, they are the only aircraft to be 'allowed' that. The German flag on the lower fin has to be flown according to German law; normally: no flag.
Jan Merx, 16 October 2009
The following article was first written for the UN Chronicle, the UN's in-house publication, dated December 1992, pages 74 and 75. The article is by Elsa B. Endrst. There is also a photo with comments at the end of the article on the photo.
Projecting an image of unity and hope for the future, 179 flags of UN Member States stand in an undulating row in front of Headquarters in New York City. All the flags are of equal size, except for the 180th - the blue and white flag of the UN - that is slightly larger and stands apart as if to keep a protective watch over the others.
Each day - except on Saturday and Sunday or when the weather is inclement - at approximately 8 a.m., a team of 8 to 11 security officers hoist these colorful national banners. It takes about half an hour to raise all 179 flags. At 4 p.m., the flags are lowered and stored in boxes at the foot of each flag pole. On weekends, unless a meeting takes place, only the UN flag is raised.
While Member States have wide-ranging views on political, social, cultural and other questions, when it comes to flags, they often conform to other nations' designs, patterns, shapes and motifs.
Most national flags are comprised of two or more of seven bold colors: red, blue, green, yellow, orange, black, and white. Nations from the same region often choose similar combinations. For example, Latin American countries prefer yellow, blue and red; and French-speaking African countries favor red, green and yellow.
The resident UN flag expert is Michael Dulka, External Relations Officer for the UN Library and its former map librarian, responsible for many years for giving tours of the UN Dag Hammarskjold Library's map collection to new staff members, visiting dignitaries and groups of researchers.
"We have files for each national flag of the world and also for flags of sub-national groups," explained Mr. Dulka, an American of Polish descent, who sometimes wryly refers to himself as the UN "Flag Pole."
"We keep official, as well as unofficial commercial information, information which often comes from periodicals and monographs. Even if we do not have an accurate depiction of a flag, we are able to provide an accurate description."
Some of the most common questions asked revolve around protocol. UN flags must comply with a specific code - last updated and published by the Secretary-General's office in 1967 - which mandates their size and the order in which they are displayed.
To promote a unified look, all national flags for outdoor display at the UN are 4 by 6 feet, while flags used for indoor ceremonies are 3 by 5 feet. Nations are assigned a flag pole, in English alphabetical order, north to south. With only five spaces left to accommodate new flags, further additions will require some relandscaping of the UN garden.
Creating a flag for a new member State can be an arduous process. First, the Government must provide a sample flag and/or artwork to the UN Protocol Liaison Service, which notifies all concerned departments in the Secretariat, including the Map Collection section and the Security and Safety Service. The Office of General Services is responsible for procuring the actual flag made to UN specifications.
Parade of New Flags
With the rapid parade of 20 new Member States that joined the UN in the past year, there often has not been enough time to manufacture a flag with the correct dimensions. In such instances, the UN temporarily flies a sample of whatever size is provided by the Member State. For several months, San Marino, a 24-square-mile land-locked country in Italy - and the smallest Member State - was represented at UN Headquarters by the largest flag.
Many national flags of the world have totally different proportions than the height-to-width ratio of two to three used by the UN. This can lead to complaints from delegates or officials who notice that their country's flag looks stretched, or otherwise strange to the eye.
The specific shades of colors used can also be a problem, since the UN has a limited selection of color choices for producing its flags. For example, there are only three shades of reds available and therefore the red used on a particular UN flag may not be as bright or as intense as the original pennant.
The type of material used in the original national flag can also create difficulties. Most national flags are made of a type of cloth called bunting, which is extremely resilient to the wear and tear or inclement weather and the passage of years. But some countries use other materials not available in the United States. UN flags are reproduced in nylon, Mr. Dulka reported.
The challenge of accurately replicating new national flags has created some uneasy moments for the UN. Once, the small graphic provided by a new Member State was accidentally photocopied upside-down and produced that way by the manufacturer. The new ambassador immediately noticed the error when he was shown the flag on the day his State was to be admitted. Fortunately, the diagonal stripes of the flag could be temporarily hung upside-down, making the design appear right-side-up when the flag was raised for the first time outside Headquarters.
The study of flags is sometimes called vexillology. [Editor's note: see also Flag Glossary page.]
There are many traditions or codes associated with flags, which dictate when they can be used and how they are to be handled. One tradition forbids the burial of a national flag with the dead. Other mandate that these precious national emblems be discarded in particular ways. For example, after being flown for 6 to 12 months, UN flags are considered unfit for display and are carefully cut up and the pieces burned.
One would-be vexillologist has theorized that the purpose of such ethics is to associate with the flag "a sense of everlastingness, of integrity and endurance under even the most trying circumstances."
Since September 1980, the UN Postal Administration has honored the flags of Member States with a series of impressive postage stamps.
Flags are also honored with a new look when the ideologies or values of nations change. In December 1989, for example, Romania removed the Communist crest - a garland of wheat surmounted with a red star and enclosing symbols of socialist industry - from the center of its blue-yellow-red national flag. And for a while, during its political transition, Romanians flew a flag with a hole where those symbols used to be.
By reflecting such transformations, in additions to both the diversity and commonalities among nations, national flags have become high-flying mirrors of history.
David Kendall, 25 November 1996
There's an interesting article at
about Donal McLaughlin, the designer of the original version of the UN emblem
that is also the basis for the flag. According to the article, the design was
originally for a lapel pin to be worn by attendees at the San Francisco
Conference in 1945. Mr. McLaughlin recently celebrated his 100th birthday.
Peter Ansoff, 21 October 2007
In DTV-Lexikon politischer Symbole, 1970, by Arnold Rabbow there is a lengthy expose' about the UNO-flag.
It was first presented in a slightly different form from the present one
at the Organisation Conference in San Francisco in April 1945, where it
was distributed among delegates and the press. In 1946 a UNO-committee
got the task of making a definite design, which was presented 2 Dec.
1946 and adopted by the plenary session of the UNO on 7 Dec. 1946.
The earlier version had the globe 90 degrees turned eastward compared
with the present flag. The change was made, according to press
statements, to take North America from the center of the emblem.
In German (in case I mistranslated):
'In der frühere Fassung des Symbols war der Globus gegenüber der jetzt
gültigen Darstellung um 90 Grad nach Westen gedreht.'
In a white drawing on a light blue field the globe appeared on the flag, which was adopted 20 October 1947 by the plenary session of the UNO.
Jarig Bakker, 10 October 1999
2:3 image by Željko Heimer
Prior to the adoption of the present United Nations (UN) flag in 1947, the
Secretary-General prepared a memorandum for that meeting, which reveals the
existence of an unofficial historical UN flag. The Secretary-General cited the
example of the then Commission of Investigation concerning Greek Frontier
Incidents who had a flag designed for them by the UN Secretariat, in order that
they "might enjoy the protection of and be identified by a neutral symbol while
travelling through troubled areas or sitting at meetings under the jurisdiction
of several countries..." as well as for the purposes of flying on UN
headquarters, offices and other property.
"This flag was composed of the official emblem of the United Nations, as approved by the General Assembly resolution 92 (I) of 7 December 1946, embroidered or printed in white on a background of light blue and encircled by the words "United Nations: Nations Unies". Its dimensions were: small flag - 12 inches x 18 inches; and large size - 4 feet x 6 feet, with the above-mentioned emblem of 5-1/4 inches in height and 5-3/4 inches in width and 22-1/2 inches x 24 inches, respectively, at the centre."
His report goes on to state that the Secretary-General had in fact received over one hundred suggestions and designs for a UN flag from "several countries", all of which were available to national delegations for inspection. However, he felt that the design already used, without the encircling words, "possesses the essential requirements of simplicity and dignity to a greater extent than any other design which has been submitted." The General Assembly of the United Nations later went on to adopt his recommendation in Resolution 167(II), of 20 October 1947.
The image above is based on the existing image by Željko Heimer, in turn based on images drawn by Graham Bartram, is a reconstruction following the description in Source (1), below, using a typeface similar to that on A/342 and other documents of the period. It has not yet proved possible to locate other documentary, in particular photographic, evidence of this flag, although I should be happy to modify this image accordingly when this turns up.
(1) United Nations, General Assembly, Unrestricted document reference A/342, "A FLAG FOR THE UNITED NATIONS", Item 41(c) of the Provisional Agenda of the Second Regular Session, Memorandum by the Secretary-General, 21 August 1947, as consulted web site of United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold Library, http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/, 31 August 2006
(2) The United Nations Flag Code and Regulations, as consulted web site of United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold Library, http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/, 31 August 2006
(3) United Nations, General Assembly, Resolution 167(II) of 20 October 1947, as consulted web site of as of United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold Library, http://www.un.org/depts/dhl/, 31 August 2006
Colin Dobson, 24 September 2006
The UN is not a country, it is merely an international organisation. Only country flags can be
flown as ensigns and used as nationality markings. Perhaps the UN flag could be used as a jack on a ship in UN service, but it is more likely it would be used at a yardarm or so, as a sign for the ship's current mission.
Elias Granqvist, 4 February 2002
Further to the discussion about the use of the UN flag at sea, while searching for material on "transitional authority" I came across this
picture captioned "A United Nations patrol boat with a naval observer plies the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh (UN Photo# 197299C)" on the website of the
UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC).
The photo shows a small white patrol boat with the letters UN in black on the side (as well as the smaller inscription "Peace in Cambodia" and the UN flag flying from the mast. The stern is not visible to be able to see if a national flag is also flying there, but it would not be unusual for a naval or coast guard boat to have its ensign at the place where the UN flag is displayed on
Joe McMillan, 6 February 2002
The UN Chronicle, Dec. 1992 article indicates:
"Nations are assigned a flag pole, in English alphabetical order, north to south."
David Kendall, 7 October 2002
http://www.un.org/Overview/Tours/UNHQ/, "Along First Avenue one can see the
colourful display of flags of the Member States. Placed in English alphabetical
order, the first flag at the level of 48th Street is Afghanistan, and the last
one, by 42nd Street, is Zimbabwe."
Joe McMillan, 7 October 2002
It has been noted that new flags are added to the display among the "R"s.
The UN Headquarters campus, as it's called, is long- it runs from 48th to 42nd
Street, and may soon extend one more block to the south- and narrow- it goes
from First Avenue to the East River. The buildings, however, are all at the
southern end, only starting at 45th Street, and concentrated even further south.
The main visitors' gate is around 45th, and the main official gate (for cars)
even further south.
Now, the flags start at the northern end, and run almost to the southern end. Many (in the north) don't even have UN buildings behind them, and those at the very southern end are almost lost among trees and walls. So if you want a flag to be photographed at a nice spot, with a clear view of the flag, a nice backdrop of UN buildings, and convenient to building entrances where you can have a ceremony, you go to- you guessed it- the "R"s.
Nathan Lamm, 7 October 2002
As noted above from the UN Chronicle article, "To promote a unified look, all
national flags for outdoor display at the UN are 4 by 6 feet, while flags used
for indoor ceremonies are 3 by 5 feet." If I remember correctly, I think
the hoist side of the Swiss flag was slightly longer than with the other flags,
so that the total area of the Swiss flag would have been roughly equal to the
area of any regular-sized flag. In any case, it looked well-proportioned,
leading me to speculate that
perhaps this was not a temporary arrangement.
Thorsten, 24 March 2003
When Switzerland joined the UNO in 2002 an agreement was reached that the
flag would indeed be square. Only the Swiss and Nepali flags are not "UN
From direct observation, I'm 99% sure (there was only an intermittent wind and tress in the way) that the Swiss flag is rectangular, 2:3, same as all the others, except Nepal. Nepal is not rectangular, of course, but the points are extremely long. If I had to guess, I'd say that Nepal is, overall, 2:3 (or more).
Nathan Lamm, 30 June 2006
See also http://www.un.org/MoreInfo/pubsvs.html for the gift shop with their famous flag poster (check 14: flags).
Gerard van der Vaart, 2 May 2001
Not a real flag, but a virtual flag which is depicted on a UN stamp at the opening of the Olympics at http://www.un.org/cyberschoolbus/gallery/pfp/index.asp.
THE UN CYBERSCHOOLBUS, in co-operation with the UN Postal Administration and the International Olympic Committee, is pleased to announce the winners of the Peace Flag Project! Students from around the world submitted their vision of a world peace flag. One entry was selected by the judging committee to become an official UN Stamp to represent the International Day of Peace.
The winner was Mateja Prunk, 12 years old, Slovenia, whose flag at http://www.un.org/Pubs/CyberSchoolBus/peaceflag/results/pages/winners/winner1.htm represents:
The sun and the earth are intertwined, they do not function one without the other. The sun represents optimism and positive energy.
Phil Nelson, 29 July 2000