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Design Process
 1st Committee
   Benjamin Franklin
 2nd Committee
   Francis Hopkinson
 3rd Committee
   Barton's Design
 Final Design
   Charles Thomson
   Thomson's Design
   Thomson Bible
 Description
 Explanation

Latin Mottoes
 E Pluribus Unum
 Annuit Coeptis
 Novus Ordo Seclorum

Symbols (front)
 Bald Eagle
 Shield
 Olive Branch
 Arrows
 Stars
 Rays of Light
 Cloud

Symbols (back)
 Pyramid
 Eye
 MDCCLXXVI

Great Seals
 Official Dies
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 First Painting
 1792 Medal
 Indian Medals
 1882 Medal
 One-Dollar Bill

Myths
 Eagle Side
 Pyramid Side

Themes
 Unity
 Peace
 Liberty
 Thirteen

Related
 Wild Turkey
 President's Seal
 Sightings
 Resources


The Final Design of the Great Seal – June 20, 1782

On June 13, 1782, Congress asked Charles Thomson to come up with a suitable design for America's Great Seal. With the reports and drawings of the three committees before him, he set to work.

Fifty-three at the time, Thomson had served the past eight years as Secretary of the Continental Congress where he acquired a reputation for fairness, truth, and integrity. Well-versed in the classics, he was once a Latin master at an academy in Philadelphia.

Although today he is not a well-known founder, Charles Thomson was at the heart of the American Revolution. His story is a fascinating one.

Thomson incorporated symbolic elements from all three committees with ideas of his own to create a bold and elegant design. He made a sketch and wrote a description of his preliminary design.

Thomson's 1782 sketch

For the front of the Great Seal, Thomson made an American bald eagle the centerpiece and placed the shield upon the eagle's breast. Thomson envisioned an eagle "on the wing and rising."

In the eagle's right talon is an olive branch. In its left, a tightly drawn bundle of arrows. Thomson said these symbols represent "the power of peace and war."

In the eagle's beak, he placed a scroll with the first committee's motto: E Pluribus Unum (Out of Many, One).

For the crest above the eagle's head, Thomson used the radiant constellation of thirteen stars suggested by the second committee. He described the light rays as "breaking through a cloud."

Charles Thomson, USPS first day cover (1982). For the reverse side of the Great Seal, Thomson used Barton's (third committee) suggestion: an unfinished pyramid with the eye of Providence in its zenith, but added a triangle around the eye (like the first committee did).

He also created two new mottoes: "Novus Ordo Seclorum" (A New Order of the Ages) and "Annuit Coeptis" (Providence has Favored Our Undertakings).

After consulting with William Barton, the position of the eagle was changed to "displayed" (wings spread with tips up) and the chevrons on the shield were changed to the vertical stripes we see today.

Thomson submitted this design to Congress on June 20, 1782,
and the Great Seal was approved that same day
.

Thomson's final report consists of the official description of the design in heraldic terms (a blazon), plus his Remarks and Explanation.

NOTE: Thomson did not include his sketch or any other artwork in his final report to Congress. The original Great Seal is that written description.

The first die was cut three months later, and on September 16, 1782, the Great Seal was impressed on a document for the first time. (That die was the obverse, eagle side. A die for the reverse, pyramid side has never been created.)

In 2004, GreatSeal.com commissioned wildlife artist Cy Hundley
to create the first-ever realization of Thomson's design.

Artwork by Cy Hundley



Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
GreatSeal.com is not affiliated with the U.S. Government.
Copyright ©2013 by John D. MacArthur.