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Flags, Seals, Coins, and Monuments: Symbols of the USA

April 18, 2024

Over the course of more than two centuries as a nation, America has adopted, created, and amassed a variety of symbols of the country and what it stands for. From the United States flag to the designs on our coins, each of these symbols is intended to convey a message about the founding principles, history, and values of the nation. Together, they play a role in uniting a diverse population and creating a shared sense of identity.

The United States Flag

Every element of the American flag has a meaning, from the 13 stripes, representing the 13 original colonies, to the 50 stars, representing the 50 states. The colors red, white, and blue were chosen deliberately for their traditional meanings: Red stands for courage, white stands for purity, and blue stands for justice and perseverance. The flag is displayed on flagpoles and buildings across the country all year long, and people often decorate with flags for patriotic holidays like Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Veterans Day.

The Bald Eagle

The bald eagle became America's national bird in 1782. It was chosen because eagles are strong and majestic birds that are native to North America. The bald eagle is the central emblem on the Great Seal of the United States, and it's found on American currency.

The Great Seal

The Great Seal is the official emblem of the nation, used on documents like presidential proclamations and treaties as well as on American embassies and the buttons of military uniforms. It's filled with symbols, starting with the bald eagle at its center. In its beak, the eagle holds a banner bearing the words "E Pluribus Unum," Latin for "Out of Many, One." In front of its chest is a shield decorated with red and white stripes and a blue field. In one claw, the eagle grasps an olive branch, symbolizing peace; in the other, it holds 13 arrows, symbolizing war.

The Liberty Bell

The Liberty Bell was cast to hang in the Pennsylvania State House in the 1750s. It bears an inscription from the Bible: "Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants Thereof." But the bell isn't as well-known for its inscription as it is for the crack that developed in its side in the 1840s. The bell became a powerful symbol for abolitionists in the 1800s, and over time, it has become a symbol for all of the struggle for liberty and equality.

"The Star-Spangled Banner"

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is America's national anthem. The words come from a poem by Francis Scott Key, who was inspired by witnessing a British attack on an American fort during the War of 1812. The British fired on the fort all night long, but when the sun rose, the American flag was still flying there. The tune is actually that of a British drinking song, called "To Anacreon in Heaven." The resulting song became hugely popular with the American public, reminding them of the bravery and freedom that make America special.

Uncle Sam

Uncle Sam was actually a real person: His name was Samuel Wilson, and he was a meat-packer from Troy, New York, who supplied American troops during the War of 1812. His shipments were stamped with "U.S.," for "United States," but soldiers joked that it stood for "Uncle Sam" Wilson. Over time, illustrations of a lanky man with a white beard wearing a patriotic top hat and suit emerged. Uncle Sam's symbolism was cemented when he appeared in an Army recruitment poster during World War I, with one finger pointing toward the viewer and accompanied by the caption, "I Want YOU for U.S. Army."

The Pledge of Allegiance

Interestingly enough, the Pledge of Allegiance was written as a marketing tool. A man named Francis Bellamy published the pledge in the late 1800s as part of a push to sell American flags to schools. The pledge caught on, and today, millions of children recite it every day as a show of loyalty and patriotism.

The Statue of Liberty

The Statue of Liberty was given to the United States in the 1880s by the people of France. The statue was intended to celebrate the 100th anniversary of American independence and freedom as an American ideal. Positioned near Ellis Island, where thousands of immigrants first laid eyes on America, the statue soon became a powerful symbol of their hope for a better life.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore was created to honor four presidents who shaped the first 150 years of American history. The enormous sculptural work was constructed in the early 1900s in South Dakota and bears the likenesses of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln. To many Americans, Mount Rushmore symbolizes the powerful and united nation that these four presidents helped to create. However, to Native Americans, the sculpture symbolizes betrayal, embodying the desecration of a mountain that was once given to them by a federal government treaty.

The White House

The White House is where the president of the United States lives. It was built in the late 1700s, and it has stood ever since as a symbol of the presidency and the federal government.

The Capitol

The Capitol building was also constructed in the late 1700s. It's where both houses of Congress meet to make laws for the country. The Capitol symbolizes democracy and the power vested in lawmakers by the people who elected them.

The Washington Monument

The Washington Monument is a towering obelisk in Washington, D.C., built in the 1800s to honor the nation's first president. It symbolizes the nation's gratitude for his leadership as well as Americans' ability to achieve great things through perseverance.

Symbols on U.S. Coins and Dollars

American currency is covered in symbolism, from the Great Seal on the back of the dollar bill to the images of famous American leaders who have been integral to the history of the nation. Each bill or coin has a unique design, but all of them also symbolize the prosperity of our country.

More USA Symbols, Celebrations, and History

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