Seal & Motto
History and Heraldry of the Seal
Over the years, the FBI seal has undergone several significant changes. In its early years, the Bureau used the Department of Justice seal. The first official FBI seal was adopted in 1935, modifying the Department of Justice logo by adding “Federal Bureau of Investigation” and “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity” to the outer band. In 1940, Special Agent Leo Gauthier—a draftsman, artist, and illustrator—presented a new design based on an earlier Bureau flag that he had created. This design was readily accepted and has been the Bureau’s symbol ever since.
Each symbol and color in the FBI seal has special significance. The dominant blue field of the seal and the scales on the shield represent justice. The endless circle of 13 stars denotes unity of purpose as exemplified by the original 13 states. The laurel leaf has, since early civilization, symbolized academic honors, distinction, and fame. There are exactly 46 leaves in the two branches, since there were 46 states in the Union when the FBI was founded in 1908. The significance of the red and white parallel stripes lies in their colors. Red traditionally stands for courage, valor, strength, while white conveys cleanliness, light, truth, and peace. As in the American flag, the red bars exceed the white by one. The motto, “ Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity,” succinctly describes the motivating force behind the men and women of the FBI (see below). The peaked bevelled edge which circumscribes the seal symbolizes the severe challenges confronting the FBI and the ruggedness of the organization. The gold color in the seal conveys its overall value.
It has come to the attention of the FBI that “Fair Use Warnings” accompanied by an image of the FBI seal (or similar insignia) have been posted on various websites, giving the appearance that the FBI has created or authorized these notices to advise the public about the fair use doctrine in U.S. copyright law. The FBI recognizes that the fair use of copyrighted materials, as codified in Title 17, United States Code, section 107, does not constitute infringement. These warnings, however, are not authorized or endorsed by the FBI. Unauthorized use of the FBI seal (or colorable imitations) may be punishable under Title 18 United States Code, Sections 701, 709, or other applicable law. More information about copyright law and fair use is available from Library of Congress, U.S. Copyright Office, at www.copyright.gov.
Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity—The FBI Motto
The origins of the FBI’s motto may be traced to a brief comment by Inspector W. H. Drane Lester, the editor of the employee magazine, The Investigator, in September 1935:
“F B I”
At last we have a name that lends itself to dignified abbreviation the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which quite naturally becomes “F B I.” In the past our nicknames, which the public are so prone to give us, have been many and varied. “Justice Agents”, “D. J. Men”, “Government Men” are but a few of them, with the Bureau itself incorrectly referred to as “Crime Bureau”, “Identification Bureau” and “Crime Prevention Bureau.” The latest appellation, and perhaps the one which has become most widespread, is “G-Men’, an abbreviation itself for “Government Men.”
But “F B I” is the best and one from which we might well choose our motto, for those initials also represent the three things for which the Bureau and its representatives always stand: “Fidelity - Bravery - Integrity.”