Q: What is the history and meaning of Penn’s shield?
A: The Penn coat-of-arms was derived by combining the coat-of-arms of Benjamin Franklin and that of William Penn’s family. The dolphin on the red chief was part of Franklin’s coat-of-arms and the three silver plates on the blue chevron were part of Penn’s. The two were combined on a white shield along with two open volumes representing the University’s educational purpose.
Q: What is the history and meaning of Penn’s motto?
A: The motto of the University, Leges Sine Moribus Vanae, means “Laws without morals are useless (in vain).” It comes from the longer quotation from Horace, “Quid leges sine moribus vanae proficient?” the sense of which is “of what avail are empty laws without (good) morals?”
Q: What is the history and meaning of Penn’s colors?
A: Eighteenth century American academic institutions did not have colors. The earliest known representation of the combined Penn colors, red and blue, is based on the incised lid of the 1871 College Hall corner stone.
One legend traces their origin to an early track meet at Saratoga, New York, between Penn, Harvard, and Yale. When asked by the officials what colors would be representing the Penn team, the captain reportedly replied, “We’re going to be wearing the colors of the teams we beat,” i.e. Harvard Crimson and Yale Blue. We shall assume that Penn was victorious and thus remained loyal to the red and blue.