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What do the pyramid and the eye on the one-dollar bill mean and what is the symbolism?

The mysterious symbol has been linked to illuminati conspiracy theories, but the history of the Great Seal is actually based on a prominent Civil War logo.

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There are few more instantly recognisable images than the United States’ one-dollar bill. But the note has undergone a number of changes since the introduction of paper currency in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1690 and the original version is completely different to the current iterations.

The first designated $1 bill was issued in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, but even that was a far cry from the greenback we know today. Perhaps the last significant change came in 1935 when the mysterious pyramid and eye was added to the back of the bank note.

Known as the Eye of Providence, the image has sparked countless conspiracy theories, but the truth about the iconic design is less fanciful.

The history of the Great Seal

The origin of the design comes from 1782, when the Continental Congress unveiled the design of the Great Seal of the United States of America. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams all forwarded their own designs, but it was Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thompson, who was created the image.

He proposed combining the Eye of Providence, which was a well-established symbol of divine providence, with an unfinished 13-tiered pyramid. The design was intended to symbolise the 13 original states of America, guided by God’s oversight.

Historian and author Steven C. Bullock explained: “The pyramid is a sign of strength and survival and long-lasting, and that’s showing that the new nation is going to survive and last a long time, and it’s built on 13 different steps meaning the 13 new states, the 13 former colonies.”

How old is the current dollar bill design?

The smallest paper currency note in the United States has had countless alterations over the centuries. The first time George Washington appeared on the note was 1869. In 1920 the note size was shrunk to 6.14 inches by 2.61 inches, reflecting the high cost of paper and production at the time, and it remains that size to this day. At that stage there was no real symbol or government emblem.

The iconic Great Seal was added in 1935, representing the first time that the pyramid and eagle motif was found on the American dollar bill. This was the suggestion of Henry A. Wallace, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agriculture secretary who would later become vice president.

From that point on there have been fairly few changes to the dollar bill as the number of notes in circulation has soared. In 1957 the motto ‘In God We Trust’ was added to the back of the note, a phrase which first appeared on US currency on Civil War coins.

The $1 bill now constitutes nearly half of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing’s currency requirement each year. In 2018, that equated to 2.2 billion $1 notes.