On the web, there is a lot of information about the Play, Pause, and other symbols, but I could find no information about the famous Eject symbol at all. The only source I could find was an article the symbol in Unicode. It says,

In use since the 1970s on the first (audio) tape recorders and data sets. Currently appearing and being understood world-wide on CD and DVD players as well as on software.

Source: U+23CF EJECT SYMBOL (⏏) — decodeunicode.org.

However, this offers no explanation at all about why the manufacturers of the first tape recorders used a triangle with a full-width white horizontal line in the middle of it as a symbol for ejecting a tape.

What is the origin of this symbol? What is its background?

Eject symbol on a button

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    It's not a "triangle with a full-width white horizontal line in the middle", it's an underlined triangle. – gronostaj Sep 19 '14 at 11:17
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    In 1965, the line was above the triangle. See the left-most button on the Grundig C100 – user1757436 Sep 19 '14 at 11:52
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    It means "I'll get my hat". – hoosierEE Sep 19 '14 at 16:25
  • @user1757436 This illustration supports what I posited in the last sentence of my answer—that the line/rectangle represents the cartridge—and that in the C100, the pictogram is what happens after a user has pressed the button, not what will happen. – jsejcksn Sep 19 '14 at 21:16
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    @hoosierEE: A wizard hat? – R.. Sep 21 '14 at 0:17

It is difficult to find supportive evidence for this question. From what I've read about Philip Olsson's pictograms (some starting points are here and here), I would say that it, like the other media control symbols, represents movement, and in the case of Eject, the movement is upward, out of the horizontal flow of the media timeline. The bottom rectangle is probably there for disambiguation, but could also represent the cartridge.

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    Agree the symbol suggests movement. In the context of a cassette player, the horizontal line is the cassette and the arrow suggests movement of the cassette up, i.e., out of the play loop and into the hands of the operator. – user1757436 Sep 19 '14 at 11:54
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    @user1757436 Rather than "up", it's more like the horizontal line is the slot you insert the cassette into, and the arrow means "out". A down arrow below the horizontal line could have meant the same thing. – Izkata Sep 19 '14 at 20:34
  • Tape decks were generally horizontal, and when you pressed the eject button, the tape would pop up out of the deck. Perhaps the line is the deck, and the arrow shows movement out of the deck. – Owen Johnson Sep 25 '14 at 14:57

I would argue that the relevance stems from the mechanical nature of the earlier uses. Specifically, many tape and video cassette machines historically used top loading cassettes (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nordemende_spectra_V100.jpg and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:RadioShack-ctr-119.jpg). The eject symbol therefore seems reasonably to be a depiction of the cassette being moved upwards to remove it from the machine and read heads, as noted by others.

I do recall having used machines in the past that required a mechanical force to be applied to the eject button to force the ejection of the cassette rather than it being spring-loaded. This might explain the scale of the up arrow (triangle) relative to the horizontal line but that is speculation on my part.

It seems entirely reasonable though that as the mechanical components of cassette machines improved over time and shifted to electronic ejection and front-loading, the established recognition of the eject symbol for that function, has kept it in use.


Way back in the mists of time, recordable media came on spools and were hand-threaded through the works of the device. Mistakes were nasty - 100 meters of 1/4 inch tape on the floor takes a LONG time to wind up again (Very easy to do - change from fast-wind to play without slowing the reels down. Inertia will handle the rest).

The self-contained cassette was a major leap forward. This end in first, push down at the other end, press Play. Now, how to we get it out? Well, it went in by pushing it down so it seems reasonable to push the Up button to get it out.

Almost all the early cassette drives were top loaders. It was mechanically a lot simpler to design a tray that used finger power to push the cassette over the various bits than to have the machine do it. Front loaders were the next "wow" product - we can stack things!! But it was still very obvious that the cassette went down into the mechanism - you could see the thing drop, especially on home VHS players. Thus the "Up" symbol still made sense.

Today it's like the floppy disk icon meaning Save. I haven't seen a top-loading media drive (or a floppy disk) in over a decade, I have friends young enough to have never seen one. It's just always been that same icon.

Other icons in the same category are the brake icon in your car - it represents a drum brake mechanism which most drivers today don't have and even fewer have ever seen (they're nasty to work on).

The disk drive icon is going the same way - spinning drives do look like the icon but as SSD become standard the storage device will change to just another circuit card with no distinctive form. The icon will remain.

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    If you show the younger generation a 3.5" floppy disk, I bet they will say "Wow, did you make a real-life model of the Save button?" – ADTC Sep 21 '14 at 16:35

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