For explanation of the design, click here.

American Chemical Society

Division of the History of Chemistry

ACS logo
SymbolKey-150dpi.jpg - 26002 Bytes

The symbols are based upon those used by the Royal Society of Chemistry-Alchemical Elements. Earth, Air, Fire, and Water are the four classical alchemical elements, and variations of these symbols can be used to represent them.

Galen associated the four bodily humours with the four classical alchemical symbols, which led to the association of colors based on these humours with these alchemical symbols. The following table was found at (this link is no longer active), and shows the association.

Cholera (Choleric — "fiery") Fire Hot and dry Fiery and quick Yellow Bile
Sanguis (Sanguine — "ruddy", optimistic) Air Warm and moist Jovial Blood
Pituita (Phlegmatic) Water Cold and moist Heavy Phlegm
Melancholia (Melancholy) Earth Cold and dry Dull Black Bile

Going by the information in the URL's above, and other sources, it seemed appropriate that the triangles representing the alchemical symbols should be rotated so that Earth is at the bottom and Air is at the top, with Water to the right and Fire to the left. Combining the position with the association of the appropriate humour to each element, you get the following color scheme:

Element Color Humour
Air Red Sanguine
Earth Gray Melancholy
Fire Yellow Choleric
Water White Phlegmatic

We considered designs with these colors, but the combination of gray and white did not provide enough contrast. Therefore, we kept the colors for Air and Fire, and associated green with Earth and blue with Water. This made a more aesthetically pleasing combination, especially since we were designing a logo for HIST.

Element Color
Air Red
Earth Green
Fire Yellow
Water Blue


The symbol at the center of the logo represents a retort, which the Oxford English Dictionary defines as: "A vessel generally made of glass, but occasionally of metal or earthenware, and provided with a long neck, bent downwards, in which liquids, etc., subjected to distillation are heated."

A discussion of the various meanings of retort can be found at

All of this discussion led to the symbol chosen. HIST Symbol:
An alternative symbol for the center of the logo
was slightly more complicated, showing the outines
of other glassware, such as test tubes and flasks.
Alternative Symbol:

We decided to use the simpler logo as it had a clearer presentation.