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Martyl Langsdorf, Doomsday Clock designer, is dead at 96


The cover of the June 1947 issue of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists featuring Martyl Langsdorf's Doomsday Clock design.


Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Martyl Langsdorf, the artist who designed the Doomsday Clock, has died at age 96.

The clock, which symbolizes how close the world is to nuclear destruction, first appeared on the cover of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 1947.

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Langsdorf, who was married to Alexander Langsdorf Jr., a University of Chicago physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, depicted a clock set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight symbolizing nuclear annihilation.

According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists:

Like the countdown to an atomic bomb explosion, it suggested the destruction that awaited if no one took action to stop it.

"I chose the clock face because of the urgency and that time of the essence,” Langsdorf told the Art Institute of Chicago in a 2007 interview, according to the Chicago Reader. “That was the idea. Then I fooled around trying to do something literal, and then take away. That's the way I work. Now that’s what abstraction is. An abstract is something from reality."

When the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon in 1949, the editors of the Bulletin pushed the hands of the clock four minutes closer to midnight, the Chicago Tribune reported.

In 1991, when the Cold War was declared over, the clock was wound back to 17 minutes before midnight. The Doomsday Clock is currently set at 11:55 p.m.

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"It's such an intuitively tension-building image," graphic designer Michael Bierut, who updated Mrs. Langsdorf's design in 2007, told the Washington Post, according to the Chicago Tribune. "To be able to reduce something that complex to something so simple and memorable is really a feat of magic."