In 1891, Luther H. Gulik, a prominent member of the international leadership of the YMCA of the United States, established the triangle as the YMCA symbol. He saw the triangle as a symbol imbued with Christian beliefs that would become the spearhead of a worldwide missionary movement. About the Triangle, Gulik wrote:
The triangle stands . . . for the symmetrical man, each part developed with reference to the whole, and not merely with reference to itself. . . . What authority have we for believing that this triangle idea is correct? It is scriptural. . . . Such statements as, “Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all they heart and soul and mind and strength,” indicate . . . the scriptural view . . . that the service of the Lord includes the whole man. The words, which in the Hebrew and Greek are translated “strength,” refer in both cases entirely to physical strength.
As the YMCA International Committee's first secretary for athletic work (1889–1902), Gulik had strong reason to create a symbol that could be recognized anywhere in the world. He was a firm believer in the expanding Muscular Christianity movement, which glorified patriotic duty and manliness expressed through athletics, and a strong believer in the civilizing agency of missionary Protestantism as it sought to establish a United States Christian righteous empire.