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Overview
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Design Process
 1st Committee
 2nd Committee
 3rd Committee
 Final Design
 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
   Masonic?

Themes
 Unity
 Peace
 Liberty
 Thirteen

Related
 Wild Turkey
 President's Seal
 U.S. Constitution
 Sightings
 Resources


Head turner

Myth and Misinformation
about the Obverse Side of the Great Seal

The American Bald Eagle has always faced the olive branch in its right talon. It was the eagle on the Seal of the President who used to look the other way.

The eagle was not first a phoenix. Both an eagle and a phoenix appear together in the design suggested by the third Great Seal committee. And the phoenix was an appropriate, positive symbol "emblematical of the expiring Liberty of Britain, revived by her Descendants, in America."

Congress approved Charles Thomson's eagle design the same day he submitted it – June 20, 1782. There was no "great debate amongst the Founding Fathers" about which bird would be the national one – as suggested by The History Channel program "Secrets of the Dollar Bill."

More than a year after the Great Seal was adopted, Benjamin Franklin mused privately in a letter to his daughter about the wild turkey as a good symbol for "the temper and conduct of America."

The eagle's tail feathers do not symbolize the Supreme Court, which did not exist when the Great Seal was adopted in 1782. The number of feathers in the tail and wings are not specified in the official 1782 description of the Great Seal. Neither are the number of olives or leaves. These details are determined by artists or engravers and originally had no intended symbolic significance.

Detail of 1st painting. The number thirteen is not "hidden" in the design of the Great Seal. It is specified several times: 13 stripes, 13 arrows, 13 stars.

The shape of each star is not described. There was no intended symbolic significance to whether a star has five points or six. This detail is also for artists and engravers to decide.

It is alleged that George Washington requested the constellation of 13 stars to be shaped into a hexagram (two intersecting triangles that form a six-pointed star), because that's also the shape of the Star of David – supposedly as a way of thanking the Jewish patriot Haym Salomon for his service to the country, particularly his financial help during the Revolution. But this story is only a legend with no evidence to support it.

Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
Copyright ©2014 by John D. MacArthur.