Discover the Washington State Seal: History, Symbolism, and Meaning

Written by Heather Hall
Published: April 6, 2023
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Washington is located in the upper-left corner of the United States. It borders Canada to the north and Oregon to the south. To the east is the state of Idaho. States have symbols like seals, flags, and flowers for a variety of reasons. These symbols represent a shared identity among citizens that reflects an area’s history and culture. State seals are often seen as particularly meaningful due to their strong connection with government authority. The design of Washington state’s seal includes several important symbols that reflect its unique heritage. These symbols include a ship representing commerce, mountains signifying natural beauty, an eagle symbolizing strength, and evergreen trees reflecting growth in industry and agriculture. Together these components create a powerful representation of what makes Washington so special!

State Seal

The state flag of Washington
The State Seal of Washington is included on the state’s flag.


The Washington State Seal, which has been in use since 1889 when Washington joined the Union, features a portrait of George Washington surrounded by an outer yellow ring with the words “The Seal of the State of Washington” above and the year 1889 below. The inner circle is composed of a light blue background and a picture of George Washington. The picture is a copy of the painting by Gilbert Stuart. He was an American portraitist from Rhode Island back when it was a colony.


Charles Talcott was commissioned to design the Washington State seal. He based it on a painting of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. The original plan for the seal was initially going to feature Mount Rainier. However, Mr. Talcott suggested an alternative design showing George Washington instead. Compared to the previous version, in which the background was green, this new version had a blue background. This change in color has become symbolic of loyalty and justice seen in many government seals today. It is also believed that it symbolizes the sky above the state and its beautiful landscape below. In addition, inscribed around the border of the current seal are words from President Washington’s Farewell Address: “By order of United States Congress – By George Washington.”

History and Versions

Prior to Washington’s official statehood in 1889, a commission handed an intricate design for its seal to Olympia jewelry maker, Charles Talcott, and requested him to finish it before the initial legislature’s meeting that November.

The original design submitted by a committee for the Washington State Seal was elaborate, featuring images of wheat fields, the Port of Tacoma, and the majestic Mount Rainier. However, Talcott suggested that this design would be too complicated and become outdated quickly. He then took an ink bottle and drew two circles around its base. Between them, he wrote “The Seal of the State of Washington, 1889” and pasted a postage stamp with a picture of George Washington in the center. Finally, this simpler version was accepted by the legislature.

However, it was difficult to create the seal die using George Washington’s picture from a postage stamp, as the image lacked detail. George Talcott searched for a better picture, which he eventually found in a box of “Dr. D. Jaynes Cure for Coughs & Colds.” His brother, George, cut the die for it while his other brother, Grant, painted the lettering.

Throughout its history, the Washington State Seal has gone through many changes and variations. However, in 1967, a new seal was chosen and accepted by the legislature – an official insignia designed by a graphic artist from Seattle named Richard Nelms, featuring a Gilbert Stuart painting of President George Washington. By law, the Secretary of State is responsible for safeguarding the Great Seal and stamping it onto official state documents. The original die and press for the seal – which is over 100 years old – are still used for this purpose.

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest
The state of Washington is known for its rich history and beautiful landscapes.



The state seal of Washington is a symbol of the history and values that have shaped the state. The center of the seal features an image of George Washington, representing his leadership in shaping the American nation.

Other State Symbols

Washington State has many other official state symbols. Here are a few of them.

State Fossil – Columbian Mammoth

Columbian Mammoths
The official state fossil of Washington is the Columbian Mammoth.


Windsor Elementary School students worked for four years to have the Columbian mammoth declared the state fossil of Washington in 1998. This large, hairy elephant from the extinct Mammuthus genus migrated to North America from Asia about two million years ago. Mammoths typically lived for up to 65 years, and males were the size of modern adult elephants, while females were half the size. Fossils of the Columbian mammoth were discovered on the Olympic Peninsula some years ago.

State Gem – Petrified Wood

The geological changes in Washington State have been vast, including many volcanic fissures and also lava flows. In the past, the interior of Washington was a wet area with trees such as elm, oak, and ginkgo growing in marshy areas. With the increasing lava flows, layers of logs were preserved and became waterlogged. Over time, the wood was permeated with silica, resulting in it being petrified. Therefore, in 1975, petrified wood was officially chosen as the state gem. Visitors can best observe petrified wood at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park in Vantage.

State Marine Mammal – Orca

Killer Whale (Orcinus orca) is the Washington state official marine mammal.
The orca was named the official state mammal of Washington in 2005.

©Tory Kallman/

In addition to the Washington state seal, there is also a state marine mammal. In 2005, the Legislature of Washington declared the orca, Orcinus orca, as the official marine mammal of the state due to the influence of second graders from the Crescent Harbor Elementary School in Oak Harbor. Orcas are popular attractions in Washington – they have significance to Native American culture, migrate annually through Puget Sound, and are recognizable because of their distinct markings. By designating the orca as the official mammal, it is hoped that people will become more aware of these creatures and take steps to protect their natural marine habitat.

State Endemic Mammal – Olympic Marmot

Washington State officially made the Olympic Marmot its state-endemic mammal in 2009. This animal is only found on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington and is also known for its social behavior and for forming strong bonds between family members. The Olympic Marmot hibernates for most of the year, except during the summer months when it is seen sunbathing and feeding in the morning and afternoon. In the evening, they return to their burrows and can be spotted at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park.

State Sport – Pickleball

In 1965, three Washington State citizens – Joel McFee Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum – invented a new game called pickleball at Pritchard’s summer cabin. Unable to find badminton equipment, they improvised with ping-pong paddles, a net, and a wiffle ball. The rules they created have been preserved and are still used today by the USA Pickleball Association.

State Waterfall

Palouse Falls is the Washington state official waterfall
Palouse Falls is the official state waterfall of Washington.


Washington State’s economy relies heavily on tourism, and Palouse Falls sees an average of 80,000-100,000 visitors annually. The falls have a drop of 198 feet, making them the only remaining waterfalls from the ice age floods. Palouse Falls has made the top ten lists of best waterfalls in the United States and around the world. In addition, it is the location of the oldest documented remains and was home to a Native American culture of the Palouse Indians, the home of the Appaloosa horse, and recorded in Lewis and Clark’s diaries. In 2014, it was officially designated as a state symbol.

State Flag

In 1923, Washington law declared that its state flag would feature a dark green background with the state seal in the middle. Before this, a blue and gold military state flag bearing George Washington’s image was popular across many towns. The current design was selected by the legislature and must be prominently displayed in schools, courtrooms, and other state buildings. For more details about the flag, read our in-depth article.

The Featured Image

Welcome to Washington - state sign
welcome to Washington State sign

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About the Author

I am a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest and am surrounded by nature. When I go for my daily runs I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I am owned by two dogs who take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

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