A Brief look at the History of the American Flag
Since the year 1777 the American Flag, a.k.a. Old Glory, has symbolized the strength and unity of the United States of America. Over the past 235 years the design of the American Flag has been officially modified 26 times.
These modifications, however, have not changed the sense of pride and inspiration it provides the citizens of its origin. The American Flag is an icon of this Nation’s past, present, and future. The American Flag History below are some of the highlights of its unique past.
January 1, 1776 – At the time of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress would not legally adopt flags with “stars, white in a blue field” for another year. The flag contemporaneously known as “the Continental Colors” has historically been referred to as the first national flag. It had 13 alternate red and white stripes and the British Union Jack in the upper left-hand corner (the canton).
The Continental Colors
May of 1776 – Betsy Ross announces she sewed the first American Flag. This flag’s famous design featured 13 outwardly-oriented five-pointed stars arranged in a circle. Although the Betsy Ross legend is controversial, the design is among the earliest 13-star flags. Popular designs at the time were varied and most were individually crafted rather than mass-produced.
The Betsy Ross Flag
June 14, 1777 – the Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”
Flag Day is now observed on June 14 of each year. While scholars still argue about this, tradition holds that the new flag was first hoisted in June of 1777 by the Continental Army at the Middlebrook encampment. The Flag Resolution did not specify any particular arrangement, number of points, nor orientation for the stars.
Despite the 1777 resolution, a number of flags only loosely based on the suggested arrangement were used in the early years of American independence. It is likely that Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed the 1777 flag while he was the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department.
This happened sometime between his appointment to that position in November 1776 and the time that the flag resolution was adopted in June 1777. Which contradicts the Betsy Ross legend, that suggests that she sewed the first Stars and Stripes flag by request of the government in the spring of 1776.
The Francis Hopkinson Flag
1777 to 1960 – Between 1777 and 1960, Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed for additional stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.
- January 13, 1794 – An Act provided for 15 stripes and 15 stars after May 1795 (to reflect the entry of Vermont and Kentucky as states of the union).
- April 4, 1818 – a plan was passed by Congress at the suggestion of U.S. Naval Captain Samuel C. Reid in which the flag was changed to have 13 stripes and one star for each state, to be added to the flag on the 4th of July following the admission of each new state, signed by President Monroe.
- June 24, 1912 – Executive Order of President Taft established proportions of the flag and provided for arrangement of the stars in six horizontal rows of eight each, a single point of each star to be upward.
- January 3, 1959 -Flag with 49 stars. Executive Order of President Eisenhower provided for the arrangement of the stars in seven rows of seven stars each, staggered horizontally and vertically.
- August 21, 1959 – Flag with 50 stars. That same year another Executive Order of President Eisenhower provided for the arrangement of the stars in nine rows of stars staggered horizontally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically.
15-star, 15-stripe Star Spangled Banner Flag
48-star flag was the second longest in use (1912–1959)
Click to view the historical progression of the American Flag designs.
Today – the flag is composed of thirteen horizontal stripes, seven red alternating and six white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union.
The colors of the flag are symbolic: Red symbolizes Hardiness and Valor, White symbolizes Purity and Innocence and Blue represents Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice.
Today, the flag of the United States is one of the nation’s most widely recognized symbols. Old Glory has fought be the sides of American soldiers for over 200 years and more than 40 years later it still stands on the moon. The flag has become a powerful symbol of Americanism, and is proudly flown on many occasions.
Future American Flags – The addition of a 51st state would require a new design to accommodate the additional star. Below are three options of what the future flag might look like.