Since 1935, the front of every United States one dollar bill has featured the same design: George Washington’s portrait on the right-hand side and the Great Seal of the United States on the left. But what is the history and significance behind this iconic seal?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: The Great Seal displays the bald eagle clutching an olive branch and arrows, which symbolize peace and war. The phrase “E Pluribus Unum” means “Out of Many, One” and the unfinished pyramid represents strength and growth.

This article will provide a comprehensive look at the mysteries and meanings behind the Great Seal of the United States that graces the one dollar bill. We’ll explore the history of the seal, break down the symbolism and imagery, and reveal some fascinating facts you may not know about this iconic emblem.

The Origin and Evolution of the Great Seal Design

How the First Great Seal Committee Came Together in 1776

The creation of the Great Seal of the United States was a monumental task that began in 1776, shortly after the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress appointed a committee consisting of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin to design the seal.

This committee was tasked with creating a symbol that would represent the ideals and aspirations of the newly formed nation.

With each member bringing their unique perspective and expertise, the committee embarked on a journey to create a seal that would stand the test of time. They deliberated over various elements, including the motto, symbolism, and imagery that would accurately depict the values of the United States.

The Rejected First Design by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere

One of the earliest attempts at designing the Great Seal was made by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, an artist and naturalist. His design featured a shield with thirteen stars representing the original thirteen colonies, supported by a bald eagle.

However, this design was ultimately rejected by the committee.

Despite being rejected, du Simitiere’s design laid the groundwork for future iterations of the Great Seal. The concept of the shield and eagle would be revisited and incorporated into the final design, albeit with some modifications.

The Final Design by Charles Thomson and William Barton

Charles Thomson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress, played a pivotal role in the development of the Great Seal. He collaborated with William Barton, a young lawyer and scholar, to create the final design that we see on the U.S. dollar bill today.

Their design featured an eagle with outstretched wings, clutching a bundle of arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other. The eagle was positioned above a shield adorned with thirteen stripes representing the original colonies.

The shield was supported by a constellation of thirteen stars, symbolizing a new nation’s birth.

The evolution of the Great Seal design showcases the dedication and thoughtfulness of the individuals involved in its creation. It represents the ideals and values of the United States, serving as a powerful symbol of the nation’s history and aspirations.

Decoding the Symbolism and Meaning Behind the Iconography

The Great Seal on the U.S. dollar bill is a rich tapestry of symbolism, steeped in history and meaning. Each element of the seal holds significance and provides insight into the values and ideals of the United States.

By deciphering the symbolism present on the seal, we can gain a deeper understanding of the nation’s identity and its aspirations.

The Bald Eagle and What it Represents

At the center of the Great Seal is the majestic bald eagle, a symbol of strength, courage, and freedom. The eagle holds a shield in its claws, representing the nation’s ability to defend itself. The eagle’s position with its wings spread wide signifies the country’s readiness to protect its people and their liberties.

The eagle’s thirteen arrows and olive branch further emphasize the nation’s commitment to both defense and peace.

The Arrow, Olive Branch, and Shield

The arrows and olive branch held by the eagle represent the dual nature of the United States’ foreign policy. The thirteen arrows symbolize the country’s readiness to defend itself and protect its interests, while the olive branch symbolizes its desire for peace and diplomacy.

This duality reflects the nation’s belief in maintaining a strong defense while also seeking peaceful resolutions to conflicts.

Why There are 13 Levels on the Pyramid

The pyramid on the Great Seal consists of thirteen levels, each representing one of the original thirteen colonies that formed the United States. This inclusion pays homage to the country’s founding and recognizes the importance of these colonies in shaping the nation’s history and values.

The Latin Phrase “Annuit Cœptis” and “Novus Ordo Seclorum”

The Latin phrases “Annuit Cœptis” and “Novus Ordo Seclorum” are inscribed on the Great Seal. “Annuit Cœptis” translates to “He (God) has favored our undertakings” and signifies the belief that the nation’s success and progress are guided by a higher power.

“Novus Ordo Seclorum” translates to “New Order of the Ages” and represents the United States’ vision for a new era of freedom, progress, and enlightenment.

The All-Seeing Eye and Unfinished Pyramid

Above the eagle on the Great Seal is the iconic All-Seeing Eye, a symbol of divine providence and wisdom. This eye reminds us that our actions are always being observed and that we should strive for righteousness and justice.

The unfinished pyramid beneath the eye represents the nation’s ongoing journey towards perfection and its constant pursuit of a more perfect union.

Fascinating Tidbits About the Great Seal

How the Seal Inspired the Design on the Back of the Dollar Bill

The Great Seal of the United States holds a special place in American history and is prominently featured on the back of the one-dollar bill. This iconic symbol is rich in meaning and symbolism. The design on the back of the dollar bill, known as the reverse side, was inspired by the Great Seal.

It features an eagle with its wings spread, clutching an olive branch and arrows, representing peace and war respectively. This powerful image serves as a reminder of the principles and values upon which the United States was founded.

It Once Featured a Phoenix instead of an Eagle

Did you know that the Great Seal originally had a different bird on it? Before the current design with an eagle, the seal depicted a majestic phoenix rising from the flames. The phoenix represented rebirth and renewal, symbolizing the young nation’s ability to rise from the ashes and overcome challenges.

However, the eagle was eventually chosen as a more fitting representation of the United States, with its strength, power, and longevity.

The Meaning Behind the Colors Used

The colors used in the Great Seal also hold significant meaning. The red, white, and blue colors are a tribute to the American flag. The color red represents valor and bravery, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and blue stands for perseverance and justice.

These colors not only reflect the values of the American people but also serve as a visual reminder of the nation’s heritage and ideals.

The Seal Has Undergone Over 2,000 revisions

The Great Seal has a fascinating history of revisions. Since its creation in 1782, it has undergone over 2,000 changes. These revisions range from minor adjustments to significant alterations in design. Each change reflects the evolving nature of the United States and its government.

The process of refining the seal is a testament to the importance placed on symbolism and representation in American culture.


The Great Seal of the United States is one of the most iconic and recognizable symbols of the nation. After going through an extensive design process between 1776 to 1782, the seal emerged with layered meanings and symbolism reflective of the country’s values and origins.

From the fierce bald eagle to the Latin mottoes, every element of the seal was carefully chosen to represent independence, strength, and unity. The next time you handle a one dollar bill, take a moment to appreciate the incredible history and thought that went into this graphic emblem of the United States.

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