You’ll recognise the symbol—two rows of three vertical lines that are connected by four diagonal lines and then capped with two-thirds of a triangle to form a stylized “S.” It’s a ubiquitous shape that children all over the world draw, but where did the Universal S get its start?
The mystery of where that symbol was started has plagued internet investigators the world over. More than 40 online discussions about this symbol’s genesis exist. There’s a strong relationship with the American clothing brand Stussy, though there isn’t any evidence of this relationship. Many people, including a spokesperson for Stussy, say that the symbol predates the company.
You could argue a relationship between Suzuki and the symbol as well. It might just be as possible that the symbol comes from a music group, though those symbols are either too new or too different.
Lemmino, a YouTube channel, spent the time to sift through all the online stories and comments to find that the Universal S is essentially that—universal. Every continent has a representation of memory of drawing the symbol. Its appearance can even be traced back to the 1940s.
Finding an origin is difficult. And who’s to say that it’s actually an S? It could represent any number of other things, and that makes it even more difficult to find its source. It might just be that the origin is that of a pattern from ancient date.
One possibility that may hold some merit is that the symbol actually appeared in a Scholastic book as a puzzle. The magazine the puzzle appeared in wasn’t published until the 1970s, but that lead didn’t pan out either. American Graffiti seemed to be the most likely source of the symbol. A photograph from 1973 taken by Jon Naar shows the symbol having been painted in graffiti.
Chasing down the graffiti rabbit hole led to the symbol appearing all the way back to the 1960s. That’s when Lemmino found a book published in 1890 showed the stylized S titled “Mechanical Graphics” from Princeton University. It’s just possible that the professor may have taught his students how to draw the symbol.
Whatever the origins, the Universal S is here to stay, with generations of kids drawing lines.