There is a particular sense of connection to our history when we see a practice from the past that has lived on into the present, continuing to fulfill a function, but carrying with it a sense of continuity and a memory of where we have come from.
When Archive staff members Heidi Steed and Alan Barnett recently visited Provo City to pick up historical records, the City Recorder, Heidi Allman, gave them a sample of the Provo City seal. The seal, like those used in many other cities in the state, has traditionally been an embossed imprint, applied to a document to attest to its authenticity and to give it a kind of official “stamp of approval.”
Seals are typically circular and have the name of the municipality around the outside and the word “Seal” or an image in the center. Images on seals were the historical equivalent of a modern logo. But, like the case of Provo, a seal is more than just a logo.
Provo has had various logos over the years, but the seal has never changed. In fact, research reveals that the Provo City seal was created in 1869, when the city council authorized Mayor Abraham O. Smoot to purchase a mechanism to imprint a municipal seal on official documents. In 1876 the council adopted an ordinance to give the seal the city had been using official legal status. The ordinance dictated that the seal should be “one and five eighths of an inch in diameter, the impression of which is a representation of a Mill with a water Wheel and Flume at one end thereof, the words “Industry and Commerce” in a half Circle over the building, with the inscription, Provo City Seal, Utah County, U[tah]. T[erritory]. around the outer edge.”
The seal design portrayed Provo as a progressive city. Many communities in Utah had small mills and factories, but the mill on the Provo seal had particular relevance to the community. Authorization to create the seal in 1869 came within a couple of days of the announcement that a large woolen mill was to be built in Provo. The Provo Woolen Mills were the first large-scale manufacturing operation in Utah and became the largest woolen mill west of the Mississippi River. The mill experienced ups and downs through the years and eventually became the Knight Woolen Mills, but it remained an important employer in Provo and only closed down permanently in 1932.
Successive seal embossers used by the Provo City recorder have become worn and been replaced over the years and there is even a rubber stamp version of the seal now. Manufacturing is no longer a major industry in Provo, but the basic design of the seal has remained unchanged for over 150 years. In a long, ongoing tradition, the seal is still applied to official documents today.