McLaughlin was born in Manhattan, New York and grew up in the Bronx. His path in life was due to his grandfather, who planned the Cincinnati Art Museum. He completed his art studies in 1933 as a bachelor's degree from Yale University. He then studied architecture until 1937. In the same year he married Laura Nevius. The marriage comes two daughters and a son.
McLaughlin was chief designer of the Office of Strategic Services, 1945 when he designed a pin for the first UN conference. The two olive branches enclosed globe was one and a half years later slightly changed on the official emblem of the United Nations. In addition to the emblem of the UN McLaughlin planned the interior of the Tiffany & Co. main shop on Fifth Avenue in New York.
In 2007 he said: "I dreamed of my designs realized in brick and stone to be seen. Best known I was secured by a pin. "
He died on 27 September 2009 in Maryland at the age of 102 years of esophageal cancer. His father was over 100 years old.