The bald eagle was chosen on June 20th, 1782 as the national emblem of the United States of America because of its long life, great strength and majestic looks and also because at the time it was believed to have existed only on the North American continent.
Although for some it was not the first choice as the national emblem, a notable opponent to the eagle in Bejamin Franklin, who in 1784 voiced his objection stating that, “The bald eagle… is a bird of bad moral character, like those among men who live by sharping and robbing, he is generally poor and often very lousy”. He preferred the turkey as it was a bird more native to their new homeland.
Nevertheless it was selected as the national bird and the eagle has appeared on all official seals of the United States, on coinage, paper money and on many U.S. stamps as well as being on the face of all U.S passports.
At the time in 1782 there were about 25,000 to 75,000 Bald Eagles in the lower 48 states alone. But farmers considered bald eagles vermin and shot them on sight. As internal migration moved west, nesting territories and food sources of the eagle diminished. By the late 1800’s, eagles were becoming an endangered species.
In 1940 the Bald Eagle Act was passed and eagle populations began to recover.The Endangered Species Acts of 1966 and 1978 helped to protect the bird, but banning of DDT (pesticides) in 1972 was the most effective in the bald eagle’s recovery. By the year 2000 the US Fish & Wildlife Service proposed that the eagle be declared fully recovered, but as no plan to manage the species exists, it is still listed as threatened.
To many the Bald Eagle represents freedom, soaring among the clouds matching the aspirations of not just Americans but also millions of potential immigrants.