Today we celebrate Flag Day in commemoration of the day that the Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States. In honor of this historic occasion, here is some history of our nation’s flag.
In 1775, there was no official flag for the American colonies. In fact, at this time there were at least 5 different flags flown by different groups or locations.
The Liberty Tree flag was flown on some American ships in the New England area. It was also flown on board George Washington’s personal schooner.
The Don’t Tread on Me flag was flown by the Continental Navy in 1775.
The Sons of Liberty flag had been flown for several years prior to 1775. They were a group of colonists who protested the British policies of taxation without representation.
The New England flag was flown by colonists in various New England locations who supported the American colonies instead of the British.
Some historians believe that the Forester flag is the oldest or first true flag that represented the 13 colonies. It is the flag that was carried by the Minutemen when they marched into the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775 which officially launched the Revolutionary War.
On January 1, 1776, newly appointed Commander of the Continental Army, George Washington commissioned the Grand Union flag consisting of the 13 red and white stripes with the British Union Jack in the canton (the upper corner).
Allegedly, in May 1776, Betsy Ross sewed the flag with the 13 red and white stripes with a circle of 13 stars in the canton. However, there is virtually no historical evidence to support the claim that this version of the flag originated with Betsy Ross and many historians doubt the truth of the legend. Some historians point to Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from New Hersey as being the person responsible for placing the stars in the canton. He also is credited with helping to design the Great Seal of the United States and other government emblems and devices.
In early 1777, several versions of the flag were made. Among them was the Cowpens flag, used by the Third Maryland Regiment. It was similar to the ‘Ross’ flag except it had a star in the center of the circle of stars.
On this day, June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress officially adopted the ‘Ross’ flag, also referred to as the Stars and Stripes, as the flag of the United States of America. The resolution read:
“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.”
On January 13, 1794, Congress passed an act to make the flag consist of 15 stripes and stars to represent the addition of two states.
On April 4, 1818, it became obvious to Congress that the flag could not continue to add stripes with addition of more states. They changed the flag back to 13 stripes and then made provision for the addition of additional stars to be added to the canton for new states. The addition of the stars was to take place on July 4th after the admission of each new state. This new flag law was signed into effect by President James Monroe.
On June 24, 1912, President William Howard Taft issued an executive order that specified the dimensional proportions of the flag. His order also set the rule for the stars in the canton to be arranged in 6 rows, each containing 8 stars. He also ordered that all of the stars would be arranged with a point pointing straight up. This flag is often referred to as the 48 Star flag. It’s the type of flag that flew during World Wars I and II. I have one of the 48 Star flags that flew aboard the USS Fomalhaut, the ship my dad served on in World War II.
On January 3, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an executive order arranging the stars, now being 49 with the admission of Alaska, arranged in 7 rows of 7 stars each. The 49th star was added to the flag on July 4, 1959.
On August 21, 1959, Eisenhower issued another executive order with the admission of Hawaii as the 50th state. The stars in the canton would now be arranged in 9 rows staggered horizontally and 11 rows staggered vertically which is our current flag. The 50th star was added to the flag on July 4, 1960. I have no idea how they will arrange the stars if Puerto Rico is ever admitted as a state.
Over the years, some states and cities held their own celebrations of Flag Day on June 14 in commemoration of the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes.
On June 18, 1889, New York kindergarten teacher George Balch organized a Flag Day celebration for his school. Balch’s observation of Flag Day was soon adopted by the New York State Board of Education.
On June 14, 1891, Flag Day was celebrated by the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia.
On June 14, 1892, Flag Day was celebrated by the Sons of the Revolution in New York.
In 1894, New York governor Roswell P. Flower, issued an order for the US flag do be displayed on all public buildings on June 14.
On June 14, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson used a presidential proclamation to declare June 14 as Flag Day.
In 1949, President Harry Truman signed into law a congressional declaration making June 14 the official national Flag Day. The law also calls for the sitting president to issue an official Flag Day proclamation every year on the June 14.
On this day, the American flag should be proudly hoisted up every flag pole in America, or displayed in accordance to the United States Flag Code.
Sources for the above includes: USA Flag (United States of America Flag); Evolution of the United States Flag; The History Of Flag Day; United States Code; Congress Adopts the Stars and Stripes; The History of the Stars and Stripes; Today in History: June 14; The History of the American Flag; Flag Timeline; Historic American Flags; The Forster Flag.