Rejoice sports fans: Wednesday, February 3 is National Signing Day, which means a new wave of talented athletes will be scrawling across the dotted line to secure their place as football players in the NCAA. 

Throughout history , the signature — whether carried out by wax, by ink, or by digital technology — has served as a consistent, universal action. 

Not only is today a great opportunity to tip our hats to these skilled football players, it’s a chance to take a look back into the past and future of the signature itself, along with some of history’s most important (signature) moments. 

Great Seal of the Realm

For centuries, wax seals, rather than the handwritten signatures we know today, were used in the United Kingdom to represent the Sovereign’s approval of important state documents and charters — e.g. Magna Carta. Known as the “Great Seal of the Realm,” its origins seals date back to pre-1066 A.D. when Edward the Confessor, the last King of the House of Wessex, began using a “great seal” — a wax seal with his portrait — to approve documents. The sealing wax would be melted in a metal mold and impressed into a wax figure, then attached to a document using a cord or ribbon. Today, seals and stamps are often used in place of handwritten signatures in Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea. 

Handwritten Signatures

The earliest known handwritten signature from a historical figure belonged to El Cid, a Spanish nobleman and military leader and dates back to 1069. However, handwritten signatures did not become widespread until the 17th century. In 1677 the Statue of Frauds was passed by the Parliament of England, which required a signature on certain contracts. Handwritten signatures would reign for centuries as the single most prominent method of approving a document. Some of the most famous examples include John Hancock’s signing of the declaration of independence, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s signing of the Social Security act in 1935, the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in in 1949 and most recently, and the nationwide passing of same-sex marriage in 2015. 

Digital and Electronic Signatures

Some of the first “digital” signatures were accepted as early as 1869 via telegraph. However, with the passing of the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act in 2000, digital and electronic signing has become rapidly adopted around the world. The rapid transition to digital is largely due to its efficiency, convenience, and security in comparison with paper processes. Here at DocuSign, we’re proud to be contributing to the digital revolution, and helping 50 million plus users get business done more quickly via the DocuSign Global Network. From initialing a child’s permission slip to closing million dollar deals, from signing for a coffee to closing on a house, DocuSign keeps life and business moving forward. 

Today, electronic signatures play a role in National Signing Day itself — many of the players joining NCAA, including future University of Wisconsin, Green Bay team members will be using eSignatures to sign their contracts. Congratulations again to all the skilled athletes who will be signing today, and Happy National Signing Day!