Excelsior New York Meaning: Origin And Significance

You may have seen the Latin word ‘excelsior’ on the New York state seal or flag and wondered what it means and where it came from. If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Excelsior, meaning ‘ever upward’ or ‘still higher’ in Latin, is New York’s official motto adopted in 1778. It reflects the state’s aspirations of progress and achievement.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the origins of New York’s motto, trace its history and usage on the state seal and flag, examine its significance, and look at some examples of how ‘excelsior’ is incorporated throughout New York in monuments, buildings, and symbols.

Origin and Early History of New York’s Motto

The motto of New York State, “Excelsior,” holds deep meaning and significance to the people of the Empire State. Let’s explore the origin and early history of this iconic phrase that has come to symbolize the ambition and resilience of New Yorkers.

First Appearance on the State Seal

The motto “Excelsior” first appeared on the official seal of New York State in 1777. The Latin word “Excelsior” translates to “ever upward” or “higher.” It was chosen to represent the state’s upward trajectory and the constant pursuit of progress.

On the seal, “Excelsior” is placed above a rising sun, symbolizing the dawn of a new era and the state’s commitment to continuous improvement. This motto serves as a reminder to the people of New York to always strive for greatness and reach for new heights.

Inspiration from New York’s Founding Values

The inspiration behind the motto “Excelsior” can be traced back to the values upon which New York State was founded. From its early days as a Dutch colony, New York has been a place of opportunity and ambition.

The Dutch settlers, known for their entrepreneurial spirit and desire for exploration, brought with them a mindset of constant progress and growth. This spirit of innovation and determination became ingrained in the DNA of New York, shaping its history and culture.

The motto “Excelsior” captures this essence of the state’s founding values and serves as a reminder to embrace the pioneering spirit that has driven New Yorkers for centuries.

Reflecting Ambition in the Early Republic

During the early years of the United States, New York played a pivotal role in shaping the nation’s destiny. As the country’s economic and cultural hub, the state attracted ambitious individuals from all walks of life.

The motto “Excelsior” became synonymous with the ambition and drive that characterized the early republic. It represented the relentless pursuit of progress, the desire to surpass one’s own limits, and the belief that the sky was truly the limit.

New York became a beacon of hope for individuals seeking to better their lives and achieve greatness. The motto “Excelsior” embodied this spirit and served as a constant reminder that with hard work and determination, one could rise above any challenges and achieve success.

To this day, “Excelsior” remains a powerful symbol of New York’s indomitable spirit. It serves as a rallying cry for all New Yorkers to embrace their ambition, overcome obstacles, and strive for excellence in every aspect of their lives.

The Meaning and Translation of ‘Excelsior’

‘Excelsior’ is a Latin word that holds a deep and profound meaning. It is often associated with progress, ambition, and reaching for higher goals. The word itself translates to ‘higher’ or ‘ever upward’.

Let’s explore the literal translation from Latin and the symbolic interpretations and significance of ‘Excelsior’.

Literal Translation from Latin

The literal translation of ‘Excelsior’ from Latin is ‘higher’ or ‘ever upward’. This translation perfectly captures the essence of the word and conveys a sense of striving for excellence and continuous improvement.

The word ‘Excelsior’ encourages individuals to aim higher and push beyond their limits in pursuit of their goals and aspirations.

Symbolic Interpretations and Significance

‘Excelsior’ holds a symbolic meaning that resonates with many people. It represents the idea of constant growth, progress, and the relentless pursuit of excellence. The word serves as a reminder to always strive for improvement and never settle for mediocrity.

One interpretation of ‘Excelsior’ is that it encourages individuals to have a growth mindset. It reminds us to embrace challenges, learn from failures, and keep pushing ourselves to reach new heights. The word serves as a powerful motivational tool, reminding us that there is always room for improvement and that we should never stop growing.

Another significance of ‘Excelsior’ is its association with ambition and success. It inspires individuals to set high goals and work diligently towards achieving them. The word embodies the idea that greatness is within reach if one is willing to put in the effort and strive for excellence.

Usage on the State Seal and Flag

The phrase “Excelsior” meaning “Ever Upward” holds a significant place in the history and culture of New York. Apart from being the state motto, it is prominently featured on the state seal and flag, symbolizing the aspirations and progress of the state.

Let’s delve into the design and evolution of the Great Seal and how “Excelsior” found its place on the state flag.

Design and Evolution of the Great Seal

The Great Seal of the State of New York has undergone several changes since its adoption in 1777. The current design, which features the state coat of arms, was established in 1882. The coat of arms depicts important elements of New York’s history and industry, including a shield with a sailing ship, mountains, and a sun rising over a globe.

At the center of the seal, the Latin word “Excelsior” is inscribed, emphasizing the state’s commitment to always strive higher and reach new heights. The inclusion of “Excelsior” on the seal serves as a constant reminder of the state’s optimistic and forward-thinking nature.

Inclusion on the State Flag

The state flag of New York proudly displays the state coat of arms, along with the word “Excelsior” beneath it. The flag, which consists of a dark blue background, was officially adopted in 1901. It serves as a visual representation of New York’s rich history, diverse culture, and unwavering determination to progress.

The inclusion of “Excelsior” on the state flag further reinforces its significance in the state’s identity. The word serves as a powerful rallying cry for the people of New York to continuously strive for excellence and surpass their previous achievements.

For more information about the Great Seal of New York and the state flag, you can visit the official website of the New York State Government: https://www.ny.gov/.

The Motto Spreads Through New York’s Culture

The motto “Excelsior” holds a significant place in the cultural fabric of New York. It is not just a phrase, but a symbol that represents the spirit of progress, ambition, and the constant pursuit of excellence.

This motto can be found in various aspects of New York’s culture, including architecture, monuments, songs, and symbols.

“Excelsior” in Architecture and Monuments

The motto “Excelsior” has made its way into the architecture of New York City, with several buildings and structures proudly displaying the word. One notable example is the Excelsior Building, located in the heart of Manhattan.

This iconic skyscraper not only bears the name but also serves as a testament to New York’s relentless pursuit of greatness. The building stands tall, symbolizing the city’s ambitions and its constant drive to reach higher.

Monuments across the state also pay tribute to the motto. One such example is the Excelsior Brigade Monument in Albany. Erected to honor the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, this monument serves as a reminder of the state’s commitment to excellence and its unwavering spirit.

Appearance in New York’s Songs and Symbols

The motto “Excelsior” can also be heard in various songs dedicated to the state of New York. Artists and musicians have embraced the motto, incorporating it into lyrics that celebrate the state’s vibrancy and determination.

From hip-hop to Broadway, the spirit of “Excelsior” resonates throughout New York’s diverse musical landscape.

In addition to songs, the motto is also present in various symbols that represent the state. The official seal of New York features the word “Excelsior” prominently displayed, serving as a constant reminder of the state’s commitment to progress and excellence.

The motto can also be seen on the New York State flag, which proudly flies high as a symbol of the state’s indomitable spirit.

‘Excelsior’ Endures as a Representation of New York

The word ‘Excelsior’ holds a special place in the hearts of New Yorkers, symbolizing the spirit of the Empire State. Derived from Latin, it translates to “ever upward” or “still higher.” This iconic motto has become deeply ingrained in the cultural fabric of New York, representing the state’s relentless pursuit of excellence and progress.

An Expression of New York Exceptionalism

‘Excelsior’ serves as an expression of New York exceptionalism, encapsulating the state’s unwavering belief in its own potential and the constant desire to reach greater heights. It embodies the ambitious nature of New Yorkers, who strive to excel in various fields, including business, arts, sports, and innovation.

The word’s enduring popularity is a testament to the collective mindset of New Yorkers, who never settle for mediocrity and always push themselves beyond their limits.

According to a recent study conducted by The New York Times, New York consistently ranks among the top states in terms of economic growth, cultural influence, and educational opportunities. The spirit of ‘Excelsior’ resonates with the state’s thriving industries, such as finance, technology, fashion, and entertainment, which continuously push boundaries and redefine success.

A Timeless Message of Ambition and Progress

The message of ‘Excelsior’ resonates across generations, standing as a timeless reminder of New York’s pursuit of ambition and progress. From the early days of the state’s founding to the present, ‘Excelsior’ has served as a rallying cry for individuals and communities, inspiring them to overcome challenges and strive for greatness.

In 1889, the phrase ‘Excelsior’ was officially adopted as the state motto of New York. Since then, it has adorned numerous official emblems, including the state seal and flag. Its presence can be felt throughout the state, from street signs to public buildings, cementing its status as a symbol of New York’s identity and aspirations.

The enduring popularity of ‘Excelsior’ is evident in popular culture as well. It has been referenced in literature, music, and film, becoming a part of the collective consciousness of not only New Yorkers but people around the world.

It represents the resilience, determination, and indomitable spirit that defines the people of New York.


In summary, New York’s motto ‘excelsior,’ meaning ‘ever upward,’ first appeared on the state seal in the 1770s and was inspired by the state’s lofty aspirations. Over the centuries it came to represent New York’s spirit of ambition, progress, and achievement. The enduring motto continues to appear widely on New York’s symbols, monuments, and infrastructure, reminding residents and visitors alike of the Empire State’s lofty ideals.

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