A History of the American Flag

Written by Michele Wheat

The second continental congress passed the flag resolution in June 1777: "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." Because of this June the 14th is "flag day" which is a celebration and commemoration of the adoption of the American flag. The American flag has several nicknames with the most popular being "Stars and Stripes", "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "Old Glory".

The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states and the 13 stripes represent the original British colonies that became the first states within the US. However, the flag has not always had the same design since its conception. The current design of the American flag is the 27th design which was ordered by president Eisenhower and adopted in July 1960 and is now the longest used design of the American flag. A 48 star flag was used for 47 years but when Hawaii and Alaska became part of the united states extra stars were added so that they were also represented on the flag. The very first version of the national flag was the "Grand Union Flag" which was first flown in 1776. It was similar to the current flag as it had 13 alternating red and white stripes to represent the 13 colonies, however in the upper corner it had the British Union flag which was the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain because the colonies were still subjects of Britain at the time. The colors on the flag are also symbolic. The blue represents vigilance, and justice, the red symbolizes hardiness and valor and white symbolizes purity and innocence.

A popular belief is that Elizabeth Griscom, more commonly known as Betsy Ross, sewed the first official star spangled flag in 1776. She was a Philadelphia flag maker who made flags for the Pennsylvanian navy during the American Revolution and continued to make US flags for several decades after the revolution. According to legend George Washington and Robert Morris came to Betsy Ross's house to discuss the design of the national flag. This legend originates from William J. Canby, who is Ross's grandson who presented this idea at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870 and stated that his Aunt who was Ross's daughter told him the story. However, whilst this story is known by many Americans there is no conclusive evidence today to support or deny this claim so the story of the first ever American flag is disputed.

Some historians are of the opinion that a gentleman from New Jersey, Francis Hopkinson was the creator of the first American flag. He was a delegate to the Second Continental congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence and importantly a skilled flag-maker and designer. In 1178 he submitted an invoice to congress that claimed the nation owed him two casks of ale for designing the flag of the United States of America. There are further notes from continental congress that suggest Hopkinson did in fact design the first flag however there are no pictures or written descriptions of his original design.

The flag is a symbol of the country and its people so to ensure it is treated with respect there are some display etiquette and guidelines to follow. When the flag is displayed flat vertically against a wall or window the union (the blue area) should be uppermost and to the left of the observer. The flag should not be flown in any bad, inclement weather. The flag should be displayed at every public institution and near every polling place during elections. The flag is usually displayed from sunrise to sunset and it should be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously. If the flag is to be flown for all 24 hours then proper illumination is necessary so that the flag can be visible in the dark. If an American flag gets worn out or damaged beyond repair then the most dignified way to dispose of it is to burn it. Many municipalities around America conduct flag burnings on memorial day or the Fourth of July where the flags can be burned ceremoniously and respectfully.

History of the American Flag & American Flag Facts

Facts about the United States Flag

What do the Colors of the Flag Mean?

Flag Etiquette

How to Display the Flag

Flag Timeline

Who Made the American Flag?

Stars and Stripes Forever: Flag Facts for Flag Day

First American Flag

Basic guidelines for U.S. Flag Etiquette

Short History of the United States Flag

Flag Day

Long May it Wave: As America Changed, so did the Fabric of its Flag

Where to See Famous American Flags

So Who Really Made the First American Flag?

The Complete Patriot's Guide to our Flag