What do the symbols on the back of the U.S. dollar bill mean?



Pull out a dollar bill or use this image for reference as you read through this post.

Back of the dollar bill

The pyramid and the eagle on the back of the dollar bill make up what is called the Great Seal of the United States.


The pyramid was originally suggested by William Barton, an artist on the third Great Seal committee in 1782. He suggested, “A Pyramid of thirteen Strata, (or Steps)”, representing the original 13 states. For the final design of the Great Seal, Charles Thomson specified “A Pyramid unfinished.” Thomson gave only a brief explanation of the symbolism, saying “The pyramid signifies strength and duration” – no doubt influenced by the Great Giza Pyramid of Egypt.


When Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson gathered to discuss the seal design, they didn’t discuss a pyramid, but they did discuss an eye. They wanted the seal to symbolize divine providence. The all-seeing eye above the pyramid is an ancient symbol of divinity.


Across the bottom bricks of the pyramid are the letters “MDCCLXXVI.” These letters are Roman numerals for 1776, the year America declared its independence.


The back right of the dollar bill shows a bald eagle. The bald eagle is the national animal and bird of the United States. The eagle symbolizes strength, independence, and the United States desire for peace, but will always be ready for war. The eagle holds an olive branch with 13 olives in one claw and 13 arrows in the other. Olives are a symbol of for peace. The eagle is intentionally facing the olives rather than the arrows to signify the desire for peace over war. Interestingly, in times of war, the eagle has been turned towards the arrows rather than the olives.

In front of the eagle is the national shield, which includes 13 vertical stripes to symbolize the 13 original states joined under one force.

Above the head of the eagle appears a crest or constellation of 13 stars surrounded by rays of light and a cloud. Again, each start represents one of the original 13 states. The significance of the light rays and cloud is known as a “glory” or “breaking through a cloud.”

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Unsurprisingly, the number 13 appears on the $1 bill multiple times. You might be surprised by how many times the number shows up. There are 13 olive branch leaves, 13 arrows, 13 olive fruits, 13 steps of the pyramid, 13 stars above the eagle, and 13 bars on the shield. Although this last item is probably a coincidence, “annuit coeptis” and “e pluribus unum” both contain 13 letters.


Latin phrases appear on different areas of the dollar bill. Above the pyramid, it reads “annuit coeptis,” which means “God has favored our undertaking.” Under the pyramid is the phrase “novus ordo seclorum,” which means “a new order of the ages.” On the banner, the eagle holds, “e pluribus unum,” which also appears on almost all U.S. coins, and means “out of many, one.”

  1. Benjamin Franklin advocated for the national bird to be a turkey because he thought it was a “more respectable bird.”
  2. Dollars are printed using 75 percent cotton and 25 percent linen.
  3. Green ink was intentionally used on the dollar bill to prevent counterfeiting.
  4. You can track where dollar bills have gone and where they are going using its serial number at WheresGeorge.com.

  1. Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia – Symbols on American Money
  2. Readers Digest – What Those Weird Symbols on the Dollar Bill Actually Mean
  3. Bellevue University Economics Department – The Real Meaning and Significance of the Great Seal of the United States
  4. GreatSeal.com – Untitled


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