When John Muir stole his rival’s motto for the Sierra Club

On May 28th, 1892, John Muir founded the Sierra Club in San Francisco, California. Most of it is still recognizable today, but the seal is different. That may be because it was copied from the California Geological Survey. The Sierra Club’s original motto was Altiora Peto—I seek the highest places. Exploring the Highest Sierra reveals that the original seal wasn’t Muir’s poetic invention. In fact, it came from the seal of the California Geological Survey.

The Survey used the motto Altiora Petimus—the plural of Altiora Peto. Muir used the singular even though he feuded with CGS leader Josiah Whitney. Their scientific disagreements were significant (they disagreed about the creation of Yosemite), but Muir still used the slightly-modified version of the CGS’s motto for the Sierra Club. The competing mottos didn’t last long, however. By 1894, the Sierra Club had tasked architect Willis Polk with designing a new seal. Conspicuously absent was Altiora Peto—either the club had stopped seeking higher things or, more likely, decided to seek them using its own path.

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Did Muir steal the motto? Or was it a coincidence?