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Design Process
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Latin Mottoes
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Symbols (front)
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Symbols (back)
 Pyramid
 Eye
 MDCCLXXVI

Great Seals
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Myths
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Themes
 Unity
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 Liberty
 Thirteen

Related
 Wild Turkey
 President's Seal
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 Resources


Pyramid by Terry Lamb 1975

The Pyramid on the Reverse Side of the U.S. Seal

The pyramid was originally suggested by William Barton, the consultant and artist on the third Great Seal committee in May 1782. For the seal's reverse side, he suggested, "A Pyramid of thirteen Strata, (or Steps)." His sketch is shown here on the left.

Barton's reverse of Seal Continental Currency $50 (detail)
Barton's sketch and his inspiration, the emblem on the $50 bill.

Barton was undoubtedly influenced by the pyramid on the $50 Continental Currency note (right) designed in 1778 by Francis Hopkinson, the heraldry consultant and artist on the second Great Seal committee (1780).

Detail of Blazon

For the final design of the reverse side of the Great Seal, Charles Thomson specified "A Pyramid unfinished" and gave only a brief explanation of the symbolism, saying "The pyramid signifies strength and duration" – no doubt influenced by the Great Pyramid of Egypt.

Detail of Explanation

Note: The official description of the Great Seal does not specify the number of layers of stone in the pyramid, but it has been traditionally depicted with thirteen.

The Great Seal has a reverse side because when it was adopted in 1782, "pendant seals" were in use, and they had two sides.

"A Pyramid Unfinished"

Mass cooperation

"The generation which commences a revolution
rarely completes it." – Thomas Jefferson

"American history is not something dead and over. It is always alive,
always growing, always unfinished." – John F. Kennedy

"The unfinished work of perfecting our union
falls to each of us." – Barack Obama

"America, having duly conceived, bears out of herself offspring of her own to do the workmanship wanted. To freedom, to strength, to poems, to personal greatness, it is never permitted to rest, not a generation or part of a generation. To be ripe beyond further increase is to prepare to die.

"The architects of These States laid their foundations, and passed to further spheres. What they laid is a work done; as much more remains. Now are needed other architects, whose duty is not less difficult, but perhaps more difficult. Each age forever needs architects. America is not finished, perhaps never will be; now America is a divine true sketch."

– Walt Whitman, 1856
Letter to Ralph Waldo Emerson

Top illustration: detail of Terry Lamb's realization
of the reverse side of the Great Seal (1975),
commissioned by John D. MacArthur.



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