The seal of the presidency of the United States is used as a symbol for the office of the president and is based on the Great Seal of the United States. Although the seal has been changed over the years, its origins go back to 1850 or earlier. The seal used today is traceable to Rutherford B. Hayes who in 1877 was the first president to use the coat of arms.
Much of the early history of the presidential seal is clouded in mystery. Records of any type of presidential seal used by the early presidents have not survived, and until the late 1870s, stationery used by the office of the president bore no coat of arms. There is evidence of seals used even as far back as the first president, George Washington, but this seal may only have been a personal gift for Washington and may not have been used in presidential correspondence.
Establishment of the Seal
The modern seal, based on the coat of arms that Hayes used in 1877, has undergone a few changes in subsequent years. Many of the changes have simply been made to the direction that the eagle's head faces, or other artificial additions or subtractions. The seal was officially defined into law, Executive Order 9646, in 1945 by President Truman. The only changes made to the seal since 1945 have been the addition of the two outer stars, which symbolize the 49th and 50th states, Alaska and Hawaii.
The meaning of the presidential seal is the same as that of the Great Seal of the United States. The ribbon is adorned with the Latin, "e pluribus unum," which is translated as "out of many, one." Never made into law, this motto was considered the unofficial motto of the United States until 1956, when Congress passed a law adopting "In God We Trust" as the country's official motto.
The 13 white and red stripes on the crest symbolize the original 13 colonies, while the 13 clouds and the 13 stars also symbolize the original colonies. The 50 stars surrounding the crest symbolize the 50 states. The olive branch and arrows, which the eagle clutches, symbolize peace and war, with the eagle's head facing the olive branch to show preference for peace.
Uses of the Seal
Quite possibly the most important use of the seal is when it is used to seal envelopes of correspondence traveling from the president to Congress. The seal is also visible in the Oval Office on the rug and at the center of the ceiling. Its most visible use is on the podium at presidential press conferences, but it is also featured on the side of Air Force One, Marine One and the presidential limousine. The seal can also be found on the Kennedy half-dollar and on the Presidential Service Badge, a badge issued to members of the U.S. military.