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Design Process
 1st Committee
 2nd Committee
 3rd Committee
 Final Design

Latin Mottoes
 E Pluribus Unum
 Annuit Coeptis
 Novus Ordo Seclorum

Symbols (front)
 Bald Eagle
 Olive Branch
 Rays of Light

Symbols (back)

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

 Eagle Side
 Pyramid Side


 Wild Turkey
 President's Seal

The Glory

"Glory" is a heraldic term for an emanation of light rays, usually golden colored. It is the only symbolic element incorporated into both sides of the Great Seal.

First painting of Great Seal (detail)

A glory breaks through a cloud surrounding the constellation of 13 stars in the crest above the bald eagle, and a glory surrounds the eye of Providence in a triangle above the unfinished pyramid.

Detail of Blazon
Official Description
Detail of Blazon

The Great Seal's designers must have considered the glory an important symbol. Each of their preliminary designs included a glory.

    First Committee (1776):
    The Eye of Providence is in a "radiant Triangle whose Glory extends over the Shield and beyond the Figures." On the reverse side are "Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud."

    Second Committee (1780):
    Rays of light are inside the clouds. On the reverse side, light emanates from Liberty's cap.

    Third Committee (May 1782):
    The Genius of America wears "a radiated Crown of Gold." On the reverse side, the Eye is "surrounded with a Glory."

    Charles Thomson's Design (June 1782):
    "Over the head of the Eagle a Constellation of Stars surrounded with bright rays." In his drawing, the light rays extend throughout the seal and over the eagle rising.

Thomson's sketch

The glory symbolizes the light of Providence and together with the eye and motto Annuit Coeptis "allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favor of the American cause." – Official explanation

Detail of Explanation

Rays sing consciousness. Photo by John MacArthur
Crepuscular rays – Nature's Glory

According to the official description of the Great Seal, the glory is supposed to be "breaking through a cloud" over the eagle's head. Early illustrations were faithful to this design detail, especially the Indian Peace Medals given by President Washington.

U.S. government versions, however, show the light rays being blocked by the cloud. This includes all official dies since 1782, as well as the current illustration:

Official Great Seal today

In contrast, medals produced by the U.S. government are correct:
Diplomatic Medal Centennial Medal
Diplomatic Medal (1792)            Centennial Medal (1882)

New realization of Thomson's sketch
New realization of Thomson's sketch

Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
Copyright ©2016 by John D. MacArthur.