Evolution of the IBEW's Most Cherished Symbol


Almost anyone, working in the trades or not, would instantly recognize the IBEW seal as representing our organization and the Electricians trade. But where did it come from and when did it start?


The very first seal was presented for adoption on the last day of the first IBEW convention, November 28th 1891. The symbol was recommended by C.J. Sutter from Duluth Minnesota. Its purpose was to serve as an emblematic button for new members and for use on charters of new Locals. It was also a source of reliable income for the fledgling union during a time when boom and bust economies made survival difficult. This symbol was accepted by the AFL in 1910 as an official seal for work done by and equipment installed by an IBEW member.


The second seal was the first IBEW seal to be recognized and approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. This took place on October 21st, 1924 which protected its use and approved it for use in written material.


The third evolution of the symbol was trademarked for use on January 1st , 1971 and the reason for the change has been hotly debated ever since. Why the debate? No written record remains as to why the symbol changes to a right hand as opposed to a left hand. The most widely accepted explanation was that the left handed fist had become too negatively associated with the communist movement. The number of lightning bolts has fluctuated from the original 22 to 21, to 16, to 22 (without the zigzag pattern) to a return to the zig zag pattern but with 15 bolts, then, and finally, to its current 10.


The final and current seal was adopted in 1999 when then IBEW International President J.J. Barry standardized the seal and reduced the number of lightning bolts to ten to represent the ten founding members present at the first Constitutional Convention: T.J. Finnell, F.J. Heizlenan, E.C. Hartung, Harry Fisher, Henry Miller, J.T. Kelly, William Hedden, C.J. Sutter, Joseph Berlovitz, and James Dorsey.