Awareness Ribbon History
Awareness ribbons have had a place in American culture since 1979, starting with the pink breast cancer ribbon. Read the history here.
Awareness Ribbon History
Awareness ribbon history began in 1979 with the use of yellow awareness ribbons tied around trees in support of the American embassy personnel held during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. In 1991, Charlotte Haley started making peach ribbons to bring attention to breast cancer. She also asked people to lobby the National Cancer Institute to riase breast cancer awareness and boost its cancer prevention budget. In 1992, the editor of Self Magazine and the vice president of Estee Lauder asked Haley to partner with them. She refused to do so, suggesting that their use of the ribbon was too commercial. According to the Breast Cancer Consortium, the executives then chose the color pink for their own awareness campaign. After this event, awareness ribbons became a popular symbol of hope and support. In October, pink ribbons were worn as a symbol of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Awareness ribbons, also known as cause ribbons, are now a universal symbol to raise awareness of a variety of issues and have become extremely common visual symbols throughout the United States and around the world. During the 1980s and 1990s, awareness ribbon history evolved as the yellow cause ribbons took on the meaning of “supporting our troops” and red ribbons symbolized the AIDS movement.
In 1989, the first ribbon appeared in a registered US trademark, a symbol of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD), where a red ribbon was tied around a door handle. Soon after, in 1990, the National Federation for Parents for Drug Free Youth used a red ribbon logo, and in 1993 Arthur Ashe’s organization used a red ribbon in its fight against AIDS. By 2011, 21 percent of logos containing a ribbon of any type featured a cause awareness ribbon.
Because of the use of awareness ribbons as a symbol, the United States Patent and Trademark Office came to consider awareness ribbons as a “universal symbol,” meaning that they cannot be registered as a trademark without being graphically modified in a distinctive way. This graphically modified image can be seen, as an example, in the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast cancer ribbon design.
Awareness ribbon history has consistently demonstrated that color is an important aspect of cause awareness ribbons. Different colors signify different causes and meanings, and there is a concentration of colors that has typically been used in awareness ribbons. While 95 percent of ribbon logos featured between 1980 and 1999 used either red or blue, since the year 2000, other colors have seen an increase.
One of the most significant increases has been in the pink ribbon, which has been used to signify breast cancer awareness and the breast cancer awareness movement. As of the years 2000 - 2011, blue ribbons and red ribbons were still frequently used, but pink ribbons, yellow ribbons, green ribbons, orange ribbons, and violet ribbons became more popular. Recently, a combination of two colors has been used, so that the tail of one awareness ribbon represents one cause, and the second tail another. Combined, they have a third meaning.