The American flag is one of the most instantly recognizable things on this planet. We pledge allegiance to it, honor it and it even has its own day. It stands for all that is good about the United States, but do you know everything there is to know about “Old Glory?” Here are some things you should know about the American flag.
First Unofficial Version
On Jan. 1, 1776, Gen. George Washington ordered a flag raised at his headquarters outside Boston. It had 13 alternating red and white stripes and featured the British flag in place where the stars are today in what is called the canton. There were also other versions of American flags including the flag featuring a rattlesnake and the motto “Don’t Tread on Me” which was a popular slogan during the Revolution.
First Official Flag
Established on June 14, 1777 by order of Congress, this flag had 13 stars in a blue field in the canton and 13 alternating red and white stripes. The stars were in a circle and were meant to represent a new constellation.
We all know the original flag was 13 stars in a field of blue and 13 alternating red and white stripes. The first change to the flag though came in January of 1794 when two stars and two stripes were added. That’s right; there were once 15 stripes on the flag. The two were added to honor Vermont and Kentucky entering the Union.
When Francis Scott Key penned the “Star Spangled Banner” while watching Fort McHenry be bombarded he wasn’t looking at the flag we with 13 stripes. He was looking at the iteration of the flag that had 15 stripes and 15 stars. That exact flag can be seen in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. today.
In Honor of the Original 13
In 1818, Congress officially set the number of stripes to be 13 in honor of the 13 original colonies. New stars to the flag would be added each July 4 if a new state were admitted to the Union. Can you imagine a flag with 50 stars and 50 stripes?
Bernard Cigrand was a Wisconsin school teacher who is considered the first organizer of Flag Day. In 1885 he began stumping for Flag Day to be officially recognized. President Woodrow Wilson called for a June 14 commemoration in 1916, but it wasn’t until 1949 that it was recognized by Congress as a an official holiday. Cigrand had died 16 years prior.
Flag Day Isn’t Just Flag Day
June 14th isn’t just Flag Day. It also happens to be the birth date of the United States Army as Congress also authorized the enlistment of soldiers into the Continental Army on that date in 1777. A flag and an army on the same day. Good deal.
Flag Day as a Legal State Holiday
In Pennsylvania, Flag Day is observed as an official holiday. It is that state where many believe Betsy Ross sewed the first flag. It is also the state where Congress met so the flag was authorized in Philadelphia making Pennsylvania the official birthplace of the American flag.
Legend holds that Betsy Ross sewed America’s first national flag. However, to this day that hasn’t been officially confirmed but it is commonly believed so that legend has held true. Ross wasn’t associated with the flag until 1876, the 100th birthday of the United States. Ross did sew flags, however. She sewed them for the Pennsylvania Navy.
The first person to publicly make the claim that they designed the flag was New Jersey Congressmen Francis Hopkinson. Journals of the Continental Congress support the fact he designed the flag which had 13 stripes and 13 six-pointed stars set in a blue field. Hopkinson sought payment for his contributions in designing the flag, but Congress refused stating he was already paid as a member of Congress. There is no known sketch or representation of the flag Hopkinson designed, but the above is a belief of what it would have looked like based on writings.
According to the Textile Color Card Association of the United States, the colors that must be used in the making of any American flag are “Old Glory Red,” “White” and “Old Glory Blue.” However, when you see the flag mass produced manufacturers sometimes go with shades of Dark Red and Navy Blue which are much easier to produce.
The American flag first appeared in battle on Aug. 3, 1777 at Fort Stanwix. Soldiers, who were besieged by the British, cut up their shirts to make the white stripes. The red was taken from the petticoats of soldiers’ wives. The blue came from the coat of Capt. Abraham Swartwout. It was technically an American victory after the British gave up the siege upon hearing reinforcements were inbound.
Throughout American history there have been 27 different official versions of the American flag, almost all dealing with the amount of stars. This is, of course, not including the one used by Washington outside of Boston.
Robert G. Heft
After Alaska and Hawaii were admitted as states, President Eisenhower received tons of new ideas for a new flag. Robert G. Heft, a 17-year-old Lancaster, Ohio high school student was one of three people to submit the version we see today. He did it as part of a class project for which he received a B-.
On the Moon
There are six American flags planted on the moon. Five of them are still standing. Ironically the one that isn’t is the first which was planted by Neil Armstrong. Most people believe this is the only American flag planted on the moon, but they would be wrong.