Eureka! The Origins of California’s State Motto


Earlier in my post titled “California Dreamin”, I briefly discussed the psychology behind the dream that people chase after.  This ‘California Dream’ mentality started during the Gold Rush phenomenon in 1849 when pioneers traveled thousands of miles to California.  Some travelers went simply to search for the gold while other people wanted to start a new life or fame.  Whatever the motivation is, thousands of people still flock over to California to this day.

Now here’s something interesting: while on a hike with my friend, I was scrolling through state motto and nicknames on my phone.  We were discussing different state motto and whether or not they even made sense to us.  Some states had some interesting motto that reflected the overall culture, but California’s motto was the most interesting of all.  California’s state motto is “Eureka”, which is a Greek term for ‘I have found it’.

Found it?  What exactly was the ‘it’ that the state motto was referring to?  Given that California got its popularity from the Gold Rush, the motto is referring to finding the gold that people went crazy for.

Legend has it that the motto was shouted by Greek mathematician Archimedes after discovering the method of determining the purity of gold.  Archimedes was regarded as one of the leading scientists in classical antiquity.  Vitruvius, a Roman architect, provides a brief description to how Archimedes found the solution to the problem.

This story stems from the infamous story of Archimedes and the Golden Crown.  From what Vitruvius said, Archimedes went to the public baths one day while thinking about the golden crown.  He went into a tub of cool water to finish his session.  As he lowered himself into the water, the water inside the tub spilled out over the sides.  After continuing to lower himself into the bathtub a few times, he noticed that more water ran out over the sides of the tub.  It was then that Archimedes found the solution to Hiero’s problem with the golden crown.  Archimedes was so excited that he jumped out of the tub, running all the way home shouting, ‘Eureka, Eureka!’

And that right there is the origin of California’s motto.  Eureka derived from the Greek phrase Archimedes shouted when he found the solution for the golden crown.  What makes this origin so fascinating was how it ties to the ‘California Dreamin’ psychology that runs on everyone’s mind.  This philosophy of finding the gold, whether literal or metaphorical, has been on people’s minds for thousands of years.  California branded itself with that philosophy for their state motto, which could explain why so many young adults flock to the Golden State after they complete their college education.  People want to find the ‘gold’, the answer they have been searching for their whole lives.  To this day, California continues to serve as the quintessential area for discovering the ‘gold’ you are constantly searching for.

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