United States heraldry

Heraldry in the United States was first established by European settlers who brought with them the heraldic customs of their respective countries of origin. As the use of coats of arms may be seen as a custom of royalty and nobility, it had been debated whether the use of arms is reconcilable with American republican traditions. Families from English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh, German, and other European nations with a heraldic tradition have retained their familial coat of arms in the United States. Several founding fathers also employed personal arms and a great number of Americans continue to do so.

The coat of arms as it appears on the Great Seal of the United States, agency emblems, passports and embassies.
The escutcheon also appears by itself on (for example) the seal of the United States Coast Guard.

Usage of armsEdit

Most states do not employ coats of arms, choosing to use seals as their official emblems, but the United States has a coat of arms. The U.S. Constitution prohibits federal and state governments from conferring titles of nobility (see Title of Nobility Clause) and there are few noble coats of arms in the country. Private persons, however, including several past presidents, have employed coats of arms either granted to them, or which they inherited. Since there is no official regulation on arms, except for the official seals, badges, insignia, decorations and medals of the country and the states, many private individuals have assumed arms, in addition to those who inherited them, or had them granted by or registered in another country. There was one anomalous exception to this lack of regulation: the coat of arms of the Swiss Confederation was specifically protected from unauthorized use within the U.S., under penalty of a fine and/or imprisonment for up to six months.[1] This prohibition was repealed by the "Clean Up the Code Act of 2019."[2]

U.S. Army Institute of HeraldryEdit

Three examples of work by the Institute: the Seal of the President of the United States; the coat of arms of the USS Winston S. Churchill; Mobile County (Alabama) Public School JROTC Distinctive Unit Insignia

Heraldic and other military symbols have been used by the military forces as well as other organizational elements of the government since the beginning of the Revolution. However, until 1919, there was no coordinated, overall military symbolism program. In that year, within the War Department General Staff, an office was delegated the responsibility for the coordination and approval of coats of arms and insignia of certain Army organizations. In 1924, formal staff responsibility for specific military designs was delegated to The Quartermaster General. As the needs for symbolism by the military services and the national government expanded, the scope of the services furnished by The Quartermaster General’s Office evolved into a sizable heraldic program. The acceleration of activities brought about by World War II, the expansion of the Army, and subsequent increase of interest in symbolism, contributed to the growth of the program. In 1949, the Munitions Board, acting for the Army, Navy and Air Force, directed the Army to provide heraldic services to all military departments. The program was expanded further as a result of the enactment of Public Law 85-263, approved September 1957, 71 Stat. 589, which delineates the authority of the Secretary of the Army to furnish heraldic services to the military departments and other branches of the federal government.

The Institute of Heraldry was established in 1960 at Cameron Station in Alexandria, Virginia. Within the Institute, functions formerly performed within the Office of The Quartermaster General and several field activities were consolidated. Upon reorganization of the Army in 1962, responsibility for the Heraldic Program was assigned to The Adjutant General’s Office. In 1987, with the realignment of certain Army Staff agency functions, the Institute was transferred to the United States Army Human Resources Command. In April 1994, The Institute of Heraldry was relocated from Cameron Station to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. As a result of a realignment in October 2004, responsibility for the Heraldic Program was assigned to The Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army, Resources and Programs Agency.

The U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry consists of a staff of twenty civilians. The mission of the Institute is to furnish heraldic services to the Armed Forces and other United States government organizations, including the Executive Office of the President. The activities of the Institute encompass research, design, development, standardization, quality control, and other services relating to official symbolic items—seals, decorations, medals, insignia, badges, flags, and other items awarded to or authorized for official wear or display by government personnel and agencies. Limited research and information services concerning official symbolic items are also provided to the general public.[3]

State heraldryEdit

Eighteen states have officially adopted a coat of arms. The former independent Republic of Texas and Kingdom of Hawaii each had a separate national coat of arms, which are no longer used.

Puerto Rico has a coat of arms as well, originally granted by the Spanish Crown in 1512, which also influenced the design of that territory's seal.

The flags of Maryland and the District of Columbia are heraldic banners of the historical coats of arms of specific individuals.

Private heraldryEdit

There are several private organizations working to advance heraldic traditions in the United States such as the American College of Heraldry and Arms and Assume Arms. These organizations keep registers of arms and give advice on designing coats of arms.

For a fee, the English College of Arms will devise arms for persons of English or Welsh descent, as the Scottish Court of the Lord Lyon will for persons of Scottish descent. The Chief Herald of Ireland has granted arms to Americans of Irish descent. Some American recipients of foreign orders of knighthood in which arms are expected to be borne have received arms from the relevant foreign authorities.


16th centuryEdit

  • The English settlement of Ralegh, in Virginia, applies for a grant of civic arms from the College of Arms in 1586 – it is uncertain if the grant was made.[4]

17th centuryEdit

Arms of Lord Baltimore, and later those of Maryland.
  • The Virginia Company of London was chartered and granted official arms in 1606 for the purpose of establishing the colony of Virginia at Jamestown – the company's arms became Virginia's government coat of arms for the duration of the colonial period
  • The Dutch New Netherland Company establishes the New Netherland (Nieuw Nederland) settlement in 1614 – it assumes official arms in 1630.
  • Lord Baltimore assigns his personal arms to the Maryland colony in 1634, which remain in use to this day.
  • Harvard College in Massachusetts assumes arms in 1643.
  • Rhode Island assumes official arms in 1661.
  • New York (city) assumes civic arms in 1686.
  • The first English grant of arms to an American colonist: Francis Nicholson, of Maryland, in 1694.[4]
  • The College of William and Mary in Virginia, as the sole royal foundation in the American colonies, is granted arms in 1694.[4]

18th centuryEdit

  • Queen Anne establishes a Carolina Herald, and a local aristocracy of landgraves and cassiques, for the Carolina colony in 1705 – Lawrence Crump (at the College of Arms) is Carolina Herald but does not appear to have granted any arms.[4]
  • Connecticut assumes official arms in 1711.
  • St. Augustine, Florida petitions Philip V, King of Spain, to grant the city a coat of arms in 1715. Although granted, there is no record the city received its arms until 1991.[5]
  • The first Scottish grant of arms to an American colonist: Rhode Island governor Samuel Cranston, in 1724.
  • Yale College in Connecticut assumes arms in 1736.
  • Princeton University in New Jersey assumes arms in 1746.
  • The thirteen British colonies declare independence, as the United States of America, in 1776 – at least 35 of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence, including John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin, are armigerous.[6]
  • Five states assume official arms during or shortly after the War of Independence: New Jersey and Pennsylvania in 1776, Delaware and New York in 1777, and Massachusetts in 1780.
  • The United States Congress assumes official arms in 1782.[6]
  • President George Washington states in 1788 that heraldry is not "unfriendly to the purest spirit of republicanism".[6]
  • The United States Department of the Treasury assumes official arms c. 1789.[7]
  • President Thomas Jefferson bears a coat of arms.[6]

19th centuryEdit

Arms of Wisconsin, assumed c. 1848.

20th centuryEdit

Roosevelt coat of arms
Coat of arms granted to John F. Kennedy by the Chief Herald of Ireland in 1961.
  • President Theodore Roosevelt bears ancestral Dutch arms – they are also borne by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.[6]
  • Publications include William A. Crozier's Crozier's General Armory in 1904 and John Matthews' A Complete American Armory in 1905.
  • Los Angeles assumes civic arms in 1905.
  • San Diego assumes civic arms in 1914. [8]
  • The U.S. Army establishes a heraldry office and a system of unit coats of arms in 1919.
  • An early example of an English grant of honorary arms to a US citizen descended from a pre-1783 colonist: Alain C. White, in 1920.[4]
  • The 51st Artillery Regiment is the first army unit to adopt a coat of arms, in 1922.
  • President Calvin Coolidge has a coat of arms.[6]
  • Publications include Charles K. Bolton's Bolton's American Armory in 1927; the first volume of the New England Historic Genealogical Society's A Roll of Arms in 1928; and Eugene Spofford's Armorial Families of America in 1939.
  • Rhode Island has civic arms devised for all its towns in the 1920s.[6]
  • Alabama assumes state arms in 1939.
  • The Federal Bureau of Investigation assumes arms in 1940.
  • The US Army Air Force establishes a system of unit emblems and coats of arms in 1945 – when it becomes the US Air Force in 1947, President Truman assigns it official arms.
  • Columbia University in New York assumes arms in 1949.
  • President Truman assigns official arms to the Central Intelligence Agency in 1950.
  • Film star Douglas Fairbanks Junior obtains an English grant of arms in 1951.
  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower assumes arms in 1955.[6]
  • North Dakota assumes state arms in 1957.
  • The Army's heraldry section is reorganised as The Institute of Heraldry in 1960.
  • The Irish government presents President John F. Kennedy with a coat of arms 1961.[6]
  • A private American College of Heraldry & Arms is established in 1966 – it closes in 1970.
  • The ACH&A devises arms for Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, and Richard M. Nixon in 1970.[6]
  • A new, private, American College of Heraldry is established in 1972.
  • John Brooke-Little, Richmond Herald, presents a coat of arms to Hampden-Sydney College on October 19, 1976.[9]
  • Virginia assumes state arms devised by the English College of Arms in 1976.
  • President Ronald W. Reagan bears assumed arms, registered in Spain and Switzerland in 1980.[6]
  • The College of Arms Foundation is established in 1984, to make donations to the College of Arms in England.
  • The Mescalero Apache Tribe obtains a devisal of arms from the English College of Arms in 1986.[4]
  • The Irish government presents President Bill Clinton with a coat of arms in 1995.[6]

21st centuryEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ US Code Title 18, Part I, Chapter 33, § 708. Retrieved on May 24, 2010.
  2. ^ "Text - H.R.133 - 116th Congress (2019-2020): Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021." Congress.gov, Library of Congress, 27 December 2020, https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/133/text/enr.
  3. ^ The US Army Institute Of Heraldry Home Page Archived April 11, 2006, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on November 2, 2006.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Woodcock, T. & Robinson, J.M. (1988). The Oxford Guide to Heraldry
  5. ^ "A "New" Coat of Arms for St. Augustine, Florida".
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "American Heraldry Society". Americanheraldry.org. Retrieved 2017-10-17.
  7. ^ "heraldica.com". heraldica.com. 2012-10-01. Retrieved 2017-10-17.
  8. ^ "Official City of San Diego Seal | Office of the City Clerk | City of San Diego Official Website".
  9. ^ "H-SC Coat of Arms". Archived from the original on 2011-07-19. Retrieved 2011-03-01.

External linksEdit