What Is the Meaning of the U.S. Marines Symbol?

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The U.S. Marine Corps emblem--the eagle, globe and anchor--dates in its current form to the late 19th century, but it adapted several other emblems in use from the Marines' inception and even from the British military before that.

1 History

The Marine Corps emblem was designed in 1868 by Brigadier General Jacob Zeilin. Zeilin based it on already existing emblems worn by many Marines that also used the bald eagle or fouled anchor ("fouled" means that the anchor is entwined with a rope line). But he added the globe, which he borrowed from the British Marines and modified. The emblem has been used (with minor modifications) by the Marine Corps since its introduction.

2 The Eagle

The golden eagle identifies the Marine Corps as American--although interestingly, the eagle used on the Marines' emblem is the crested eagle, found worldwide, and not the North American bald eagle that is the U.S. national bird and frequent symbol. The eagle's spread wings and common species have sometimes been taken to connote the Marine Corps' worldwide operations, but it's unclear if this was intended in 1868. The eagle's beak holds a banner emblazoned with the Latin words "Semper Fidelis."

3 The Fouled Anchor

Like the eagle, the fouled anchor had been used to represent the Marine Corps for many years prior to 1868. It derived from similar iconography used by the U.S. Navy (derived in turn from that of the British Navy) to firmly identify the organization as maritime, and to symbolize, with the encircling chain, the trials and tribulations of the job. Its use by the Marines dates to the service branch's inception in 1775.

4 The Globe

The globe was Jacob Zeilin's primary modification to the already existing Marine emblems. Like the fouled anchor, it was borrowed from Britain's Royal Navy. While the British globe had the Eastern Hemisphere facing the viewer, Zeilin rotated it to display the Western Hemisphere, denoting the Marine Corps' geographical origin and jurisdiction.

5 "Semper Fidelis"

"Semper Fidelis," the motto of the Marine Corps, is Latin for "Always Faithful," and appears on the banner in the eagle's beak on the corps' emblem. Its famous abbreviation, "Semper Fi," is of obscure origin, but one story dates it only to 1983, when a wounded Marine scribbled it on a piece of paper and handed it to the visiting commandant of the Marine Corps.

Theon Weber has been a professional writer and critic since 2006, writing for the Village Voice, the Portland Mercury, and the late Blender Magazine. He was a staff writer at the Web-based Stylus Magazine from 2005 to its closure in 2007.