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Overview
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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
 First Engravings
 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


John Trumbull's painting of signing the Declaration of Independence (detail, $2 bill)

Design Process

Late on the afternoon of July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to "to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America."

Like other nations, America needed an official symbol of sovereignty to seal and authenticate her international treaties and transactions. The new nation needed a symbolic signature others would recognize and honor.

Many people today know what a challenge it can be to come up with a good logo and slogan for their team, business, or organization. Imagine having to design a symbol that would represent an entire nation to the whole world – and to future generations.

This is what America's founders had to do back in 1776. Using only a few images and words, they had to illustrate the principles that inspired them to revolutionize their world and create a new nation.

During the next six years of the Revolution, three different committees submitted ideas for this graphic image of America, but none were acceptable. In June 1782, Congress turned the task over to Charles Thomson who created the final design.

In September 1782, the first Great Seal die was cut and used to begin sealing the peace with England. (That die was the obverse, eagle side. A die for the reverse, pyramid side has never been created.)

For 230 years now, the Great Seal of the United States has ratified international agreements of peace, cooperation, and trade. Representing the people of America, it seals their promise to other nations.

The designs suggested by the three committees are wonderful windows into the revolutionary minds of the founders. They reflect America's struggle for Independence and help us better understand the thinking that went into the Great Seal of the United States.


Discover history.

First Committee (July 1776)
  Ben Franklin's design for the reverse side

Second Committee (March 1780)
  Francis Hopkinson

Third Committee (May 1782)
  Heraldic description of a complex design

Final Design (June 1782)
  Charles Thomson – "astonishing facts"
  Description of Thomson's eagle rising

Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
GreatSeal.com is not affiliated with the U.S. Government.
Author and webwright: John D. MacArthur