On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a committee to create a seal for the United States of America. Following the appointment of two additional committees, each building upon the other, the Great Seal was finalized and approved on June 20, 1782.
The Great Seal has two sides— an obverse, or front side, and a reverse side. The obverse side displays a bald eagle, the national bird, in the center. The bald eagle holds a scroll inscribed E pluribus unum in its beak. The phrase means “out of many, one” in Latin and signifies one nation that was created from thirteen separate colonies. In one of the eagle’s claws is an olive branch and in the other is a bundle of thirteen arrows. The olive branch signifies peace and the arrows signify war.
A shield with thirteen red and white stripes covers the eagle’s breast. The eagle alone supports the shield to signify that Americans should rely on their own virtue and not that of other nations. The red and white stripes of the shield represent the states united under and supporting the blue, representing the President and Congress. The color red signifies valor and bravery, the color white signifies purity and innocence, and the color blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice. Above the eagle’s head is a cloud that surrounds a blue field containing thirteen stars, which form a constellation. The constellation represents the fact that the new Nation is taking its place among the sovereign powers.
The reverse side contains a thirteen-step pyramid with the year 1776 in Roman numerals at its base. Above the pyramid is the Eye of Providence and the motto Annuit Coeptis, meaning “He [God] favors our undertakings.” Below the pyramid, Novus Ordo Seclorum, meaning “New Order of the Ages,” is written on a scroll to signify the beginning of the new American era.
The obverse side of the Great Seal is used on postage stamps, military uniforms, U.S. passports, and above the doors of U.S. embassies worldwide. Both sides are present on the one dollar bill.