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Pieces of the Past: The Keystone State

January 10, 2024

Recently I spotted a “Welcome to Pennsylvania” sign at the border with Ohio. I’m in the habit of just glancing at signs. Almost ignoring them. This time I let my brain connect with the rest of my senses.

There at the bottom of the billboard was a statement: “PURSUE YOUR HAPPINESS.” When did this happen? Over the years, the Commonwealth has used some interesting official monikers.

Not one English teacher approved of: “You’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania.” Something to do with “double possessive.” The slogan should have been: “You have a friend in Pennsylvania.”

PA got its first slogan from Thomas Jefferson all the way back in 1802! Yep, it was Jefferson who called our Commonwealth the Keystone State. Jefferson observed that our position in the 13 original “states” supported the rest both north and south. Which by the way, we aren’t a state. We are a Commonwealth. Four “states” call themselves “commonwealths.” Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. From a legal standpoint, there is no difference between a “state” and a “commonwealth.”

The list of “official” PA slogans reaches back to Jefferson. When I was researching this topic I stumbled onto a long list of so-called slogans. Many of which I suspect were planted by practical jokers. But some of them are authentic. At the founding of Pennsylvania, three words were accepted as an official motto: VIRTUE LIBERTY INDEPENDENCE. Those three words appear on our flag and our official seal. The seal itself goes back to William Penn himself. The flag, featuring the seal and 3-word slogan got an official State assembly nod in 1799. The flag was finally allowed for non-military use in the early 1900s.

“Pursue your happiness” became the official slogan at a winery in 2017.

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