The Eagle Spreads Its Wings

The eagle has long been the most popular American motif in the decorative arts crafts. Thousands of artists and craftsmen have interpreted its image. Soaring and circling far above the earth, plunging like a meteor from the sky, screaming defiance at a storm or fiercely striking its prey--to people of every age the eagle has embodied freedom and power.

The bald-headed eagle of the American species with outspread wings and legs is prominently displayed on the Great Seal of the United States, which was approved by Congress on June 20, 1782.

The eagle on the great seal was by no means the first emblematic eagle to make its appearance in the American Colonies. As early as 1700, one was stamped on a New York token of lead or brass; in 1776 it was featured on a Massachusetts copper penny within a semicircle of thirteen stars; and in 1778 the State of New York included an eagle perched on a globe as part of its official coat of arms. However, the eagle on the Great Seal is the first specified as being of the American bald-headed species, "bald" in the older sense of the term, meaning white.

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All images and text are from Treasury of American Design, volume 2, by Clarence P. Hornung.