Becoming Stanford: The History and Meaning of the University’s Insignia

April 2, 2015
Josh Schneider

Have you ever wondered why Stanford is represented by the color cardinal, and not the original choice of gold? Or why the university's motto is in German?

The University Archives, in collaboration with Kathleen Smith, Curator of Germanic Collections and Medieval Studies, is pleased to announce a new exhibition focused on the development of Stanford's insignia. Becoming Stanford: The History and Meaning of the University’s Insignia is now on display in the South Lobby of Green Library.

This exhibition explores the historical elements underlying the design and adoption of Stanford's symbols. Perhaps most prominently featured is the Stanford Seal, which includes the German motto “Die Luft der Freiheit weht,” as well as the Palo Alto tree ("El Palo Alto"), a historical landmark still standing on the east bank of the San Francisquito Creek.

Also exhibited will be several of Stanford's coats of arms and crests, the symbols of heraldry developed by Professor Eric Hutchinson (Chemistry) to represent the university's schools in 1967. Although elements of the coats of arms are visible on flags around campus during commencement, the crests have never before been publicly displayed.

The Stanford University Libraries’ Department of Special Collections and University Archives acquires, preserves, and provides access to primary source materials that support the research needs of the Stanford community and beyond, including through the creation of exhibits.

For more information about Stanford's insignia, or about any of the collection materials included in this exhibit, please contact the University Archives at archivesref@stanford.edu.