The swastika has an evil association in the twentieth century, but it has a long, rich positive history, for the meaning of the word svastika in Sanskrit means "good fortune" or "wellbeing." Swastikas were the symbol of the supreme God in ancient, southeast Asia and were used by Native Americans as a sign for good luck. Swastikas appear among artifacts of ancient Rome and Greece. Buddha's (c. 563–c. 483 B.C.E.) footprints were said to leave impressions in the shape of swastikas. To Central Americans long before contact with Europeans, the swastika represented good luck, long life, and prosperity. The symbol appears on Navajo blankets and on ancient Chinese coins.
Helene Petrovna Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society, included the swastika in the seal of the society. Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936) combined the symbol in a circle with his signature to form his personal logo. Coca-Cola once issued a swastika pendant for patrons of its soft drink. The Girls' Club published a magazine entitled The Swastika; and until 1940, just before the United States entered World War II, the Boy Scouts awarded a swastika badge.
The earliest known swastikas date from 2500 or 3000 B.C.E. in India and Central Asia. It was the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who, during his excavation of Homer's Troy on the shores of the Dardanelles (1871–75), presumed that the swastikas he found on certain artifacts were somehow linked to religious symbols of his ancestors.
By 1914, the Wandervogel, a militarist anti-Semitic German youth group, began using a curved swastika on a cross as its insignia. In 1920, a dentist named Friedrich Krohn, a member of the Nazi Party, designed the official symbol of the party, the flag with a black swastika in its center. Adolf Hitler's (1889–1945) contribution to the insignia was to reverse the direction of the swastika so it appeared to spin clockwise. From that time onward, a once great symbol of good fortune became the most potent icon of racial hatred and violence the world has ever known.