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California State Motto

Eureka Language:Greek
Translation:I Have Found It Originator:Major Robert Selden Garnett, 1849

What is a motto?

Merriam-Webster Online defines motto in this way:

State mottoes may be said to reflect the character and beliefs of the citizens of the state, or more accurately, the citizens of the state when they were adopted. State mottoes can help us gain insight into the history of a state.

Adoption of the California State Motto

California's motto is the only state motto rendered in Greek. It was included as an element of the Great Seal of the State of California when it was designed in 1849. The seal was designed by Major Robert Selden Garnett of the U. S. Army and adopted in 1849 at the California Constitutional Convention in Monterey.

Major Garnett was in Monterey at the time of the Constitutional Convention. He was known to be a good artist and one evening, perhaps moved by the momentous occasion of the Convention, sketched a design for a California state seal. Some of the Convention delegates were impressed with his design and wanted to present it to the Convention, but Garnett declined knowing that some animosity existed between the military and local civic authorities at the time. He feared that the Convention would deny adoption the seal if the members knew who created it.

Somehow, Caleb Lyon, one of the clerks of the Convention, learned about Garnett's sketch. A plan was adopted where Mr. Lyon would present the design to the Convention as his own creation, concealing the identity of its real originator.

The design was presented to the Convention by Mr. Lyon, accepted and referred to a study committee. On November 29, 1849, the report of the committee was presented to the Convention. The motto, Eureka, was mentioned in the Journal:

"...above is the Greek motto 'Eureka' (I have found it) applying either to the principle involved in the admission of the State, or the success of the miner at work."

1849 Great Seal
1849 Great Seal

Discussion of the design followed. Amendments were proposed, some adopted, some defeated. There was some argument about some of the elements of the seal, particularly about inclusion of the bear. Except for the comment that it was unusual for a state seal to contain a motto, there didn't seem to be any objection to the presence of Eureka on the seal.

In 1957, there were moves in the California Legislature to adopt "In God We Trust" as the official state motto of California. ("In God We Trust" is currently the motto of the United States of America and of the State of Florida.) These moves were defeated. But, in truth, the motto Eureka had never been made an official motto. It was adopted as part of The Great Seal of California. This was remedied in 1963, when the California Legislature voted to adopt Eureka the official state motto of California.

About the California State Motto

Eureka (or Heureka) is a well-known Greek phrase that is associated with a Greek mathematician of antiquity named Archimedes. It's associated with a story that involves a suspicious King Heiros of Syracuse, a gold crown and an important discovery that became known as Archimedes' Principle.

Once upon a time, King Heiros of Syracuse decided to have a gold crown made. He provided an exact weight of pure gold to a local goldsmith to produce the crown. When the completed crown was delivered to Heiros, the King had reason to suspect that the crown was not pure gold. He suspected the goldsmith of diluting the gold with less valuable silver and retaining some of the King's gold for himself. The crown was weighed and its weight matched, exactly, the weight of the pure gold that Heiros had given to the goldsmith. Still, King Heiros was suspicious. But he could not prove that the goldsmith had cheated him. He asked Archimedes to help him with his problem.

Since the crown was the same weight as the gold provided to make it, it would seem that all of the gold was used. But, Archimedes knew that a piece of gold weighed about twice as much as a piece of silver of the same size. It would be simple to compare the weights of a crown known to contain a certain weight of pure gold with King Heiros' crown. The problem was that a larger crown of an alloy of gold and silver could weigh exactly as much as a smaller crown of pure gold. Archimedes determined that he would have to find a way to determine the size of the crowns to give meaning to the weight comparison.

Archimedes Cries Eureka!

One day while visiting the public baths, Archimedes noticed that an amount of water spilled out and over the edge of the full tub when he immersed himself. It came to him then that the volume of water that spilled out would be equal to the size, or volume, of his body. To determine if the crown was pure gold, all Archimedes had to do was find a piece of pure gold that displaced the same amount of water as the crown and compare the weights of the two. If the crown was pure gold they should weigh the same.

It is this revelation, the story goes, that prompted Archimedes to leap from his tub and run naked through Syracuse shouting "Eureka! Eureka!"

By the way, it was found that the crown weighed less than same size piece of pure gold. The goldsmith had, indeed, cheated King Heiros.

The motto is widely accepted to relate to the discovery of gold in California and some have reported that Eureka was an exclamation shouted by miners when they came upon the precious metal. Note though, that according to the legal Journal above, the motto could also apply to "...the principle involved in the admission of the State..."

California Codes

The following information is excerpted from the California Codes, Government Code, Title 1, Chapter 2, Section 420.5.

Additional Information

State Motto List: List of all of the state mottoes.

Adoption of the Great Seal of California: Statements regarding the California Constitutional Convention's adoption of the Great Seal of California (Originally published in early 1911).

State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide, Third Edition - Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, Greenwood Press, 2002

State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols: A Study based on historical documents giving the origin and significance of the state names, nicknames, mottoes, seals, flowers, birds, songs, and descriptive comments on the capitol buildings and on some of the leading state histories, Revised Edition - George Earlie Shankle, Ph.D., The H.W. Wilson Company, 1938 (Reprint Services Corp. 1971)

Source: California Codes, (, March 9, 2005
Source: California State Library, (, March 6, 2005
Source: Old and Sold Antiques Digest, (, March 7, 2005
Source: Merriam-Webster Online, (, March 3, 2005
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide, Third Edition - Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, Greenwood Press, 2002
Source: State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols: Revised Edition (Reprint)- George Earlie Shankle, Ph.D., The H.W. Wilson Company, 1938



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