The Charming Origins of These City and State Mottos

Monday, July 113 min read

A city or state motto carries a lot of weight — it is meant to represent both the history of the place and its spirit. Some of these are just a simple word, yet others are phrases or even drawn from a foreign language. The next time you’re planning a trip, get inspired by some of our favorite official and unofficial city and state mottos.

California: “Eureka”

The single word “Eureka” has appeared on the California seal since 1849 (though it didn’t become the official motto until 1963). A Greek word meaning "I found it," the motto is a reference to the discovery of gold in the state in the 1800s. According to legend, the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes exclaimed “Eureka!” when he discovered a way to determine the purity of gold.

Hershey, Pennsylvania: “The Sweetest Place on Earth”

The basis of this motto is clear enough, given that Hershey is the home of the eponymous chocolate brand. Founder Milton Hershey wanted to build a utopia in the early 1900s that would nurture the people he employed. He offered them schools, affordable housing, sports, and culture. Now, the city is home to a zoo, water park, amusement park, museums, and the Hershey factory that still perfumes the entire town with the scent of chocolate.

Hawaii: “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono”

One of only two states whose mottos come from an Indigenous language (the other being Washington), this phrase translates to “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” King Kamehameha III said it in 1843, when Hawaii emerged victorious from five months of British rule.

Independence, Missouri: “Where the Trail Starts and the Buck Stops”

Just like people and businesses might go through a rebranding, so can cities. Independence, Missouri, has rebranded itself as “A Great American Story,” but a rich American history leaves an older motto in the memory of many residents. “Where the Trail Starts and the Buck Starts” is a combination of two historic legacies. The first half references the city’s role as the beginning of the trail west for American pioneers, and the second is a nod to President Harry S. Truman, who was born and raised in the town. He famously had a sign on his desk that read, “The buck stops here.”

Indiana: “Crossroads of America”

Indiana’s state motto was adopted in 1937 by a General Assembly resolution. The motto references Indiana’s positioning at the intersection of many state and national highways. Furthermore, the state is also within a day’s drive for two-thirds of Americans.

New York City: “The City That Never Sleeps”

Despite its many nicknames and expressions, NYC has no official motto. However, everyone knows “The City That Never Sleeps” refers to New York City. The line comes from the song “New York, New York,” which Liza Minnelli performed in the 1977 Martin Scorsese film of the same name, and was immortalized by Frank Sinatra two years later.

Michigan: “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice”

This Latin motto reads almost as a marketing ploy advertising the state as a nice place to visit and live. It translates to “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

Texas: “Friendship”

Another one-word motto comes from the state’s name, which is the Americanized spelling of the Spanish pronunciation (tejas) of the Caddo Indigenous word (thecas) for friends or allies. Texas adopted it as the motto in 1930.

Wyoming: “Equal Rights”

This motto comes from the state’s progressive roots. By 1869, Wyoming was the first territory to grant all women the right to vote, serve on juries, and hold public office. Susan B. Anthony, one of the most powerful leaders of the women’s rights movements in the 19th century, called for a mass migration of women to the state of Wyoming.

Las Vegas: “What Happens Here, Stays Here”

It’s since been updated to “What Happens Here, Only Happens Here,” but that might never truly shake the original slogan that was popularized by a 2003 advertising campaign from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. While it doesn’t go so far as to endorse questionable behavior, the motto gives a wink and a nod to let visitors know that this might be a place to let loose.

Featured image credit: Eisenlohr/ iStock

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