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How the Bald Eagle Became the Symbol of America

By: Sheik Meah on July 3rd, 2023

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How the Bald Eagle Became the Symbol of America

As July starts, a few things come to mind; summer is officially in full gear, planned family vacations are finally happening, and America celebrates its birthday! It is well known that July 4th is America’s independence day, a time for fireworks, bar-b-ques, and reflecting on the freedom this country has. But many other symbols come to mind when thinking about America, including the bald eagle being America’s national bird. But how and why did that happen? This blog post will explore the origins of the bald eagle, America’s symbol of freedom.



We first need to dive into a history lesson. The bald eagle’s role as a national symbol goes back to 1782 when it became part of the seal of the United States. However, the work of finding a new seal for this nation started on July 4th, 1776. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams were tasked with designing an official seal for our new country. But, with many group projects, the trio couldn’t agree on a design, and the ones they did present didn’t go over well with Congress. Two other committees were formed to develop a seal, but neither could get Congress to approve a seal. In June of 1782, the Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson took over the project and went with a design presented by Pennsylvania lawyer William Barton.


The eagle had long been a symbol of strength in many cultures, including the Romans and many Native American cultures. The bald eagle is unique to North America and can be found all over the U.S., so it helped represent the American land's uniqueness and togetherness. You may have heard that Ben Franklin actually lobbied for the turkey to be America’s symbol, but historians have debunked that myth—however, Mr. Franklin didn’t like the idea of a large bird of prey known for its dominance being a symbol for the country, believing it was “a bird of bad moral character.” 


Even with it symbolizing power, freedom, and a truly majestic animal, we almost didn’t have any more bald eagles in the world. In the late 1800s, it is thought that the United States had over 100,000 nesting bald eagles. But due to habitat destruction and hunting, those numbers began getting dangerously low. In 1940, Congress passed the Bald Eagles Protection Act, which made it a crime to own, sell, or kill an eagle. Although that helped, a new threat came about because the bald eagles were eating prey that was contaminated with a pesticide known as DDT. DDT was very popular in the 60s, and in 1978, there were only 800 bald eagles left in the world. Due to regulations involving DDT, the Bald Eagle was removed from the endangered list altogether in 2007. 


If you are lucky enough in Pennsylvania, you may say a bald eagle in your town or even your own backyard! Many zoos in PA, including the Elmwood Zoo, the Pittsburgh Zoo, and the Lehigh Valley Zoo, have bald eagles if you ever want to see one up close. And now you know how the bald eagle became a symbol of freedom for our great country. Be safe during the 4th of July holiday and remember to thank anyone who has served in our nation’s military, as they are the ones who make sure we stay free.