A few of the persons associated with the early development of this country who bore arms were Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake, Lord Baltimore, Sir Walter Raleigh, Captain John Smith, and William Penn. It should also be noted that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin and a host of other Federal and State leaders bore heraldic arms in the early period of nationhood. More recently, arms have been borne by such notable persons as Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald W. Reagan. Heraldic arms have also been assigned to the Federal Government and to many of its departments, to several State Governments, to leading universities, military units, societies, fraternal bodies and outstanding business corporations. The evidence strongly supports the man who said "bearing heraldic arms is as American as apple pie." The government of the United States of America and the several state governments in their early development elected to forgo the responsibility of regulating armorial bearings within their jurisdiction. These decisions unfortunately resulted in considerable abuse to heraldry in this country and delay in the development of American heraldic traditions.
Several private heraldic societies were organized through the years in this country, but none were sufficiently strong enough to survive. It was in response to this heraldic vacuum that the College was established. The College's intent was to bring some semblance of order into the American heraldic arena and to begin meeting the quite pressing heraldic needs of the public in this country. The first few years of the College were marked by creative experimentation and modification in heraldic modes. In time, experience led the way toward a more conservative standardized approach, compatible with heraldry existing in other nations.
The American College of Heraldry was founded in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1972 and was later reorganized and chartered as a non-profit corporate body by the State of Alabama. The College is directed by a Board of Governors who elect Administrative Officers and an Advisory Board. There are several types of membership in the College, including Distinguished Fellows, recognized for their eminent standing, particularly in the field of heraldry; Fellows, who are so recognized because of their faithful service to the College and to the cause of Heraldry; Members, who are persons with an interest in heraldry; and Associate Members, who are less than 18 years of age.