Are you ready to learn? Because that’s what we’re doing here today, folks! We’re about to take a deep dive into the history of the US flag, starting way back in 1777.
Our blog explains how the US flag came to be, what each and every element signifies, and what it could become in the future. To engage us in more flag talk or to make a flag of your own, contact our team at BestFlag today!
It All Started When…
The US declared its independence from Britain, and formed the 13 original colonies. The Sons of Liberty (the anti-British activist group, of Boston tea-throwing fame) were the first people known to use the first iteration of the American flag.
They took the idea of the 13 colonies— Virginia, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia— and represented each one on the flag with 13 alternating red and white stripes and a blue canton with 13 white stars.
George Washington volunteered to lead the continental army, and brought the flag from Philadelphia back to Boston. This flag influenced the first continental army flag, which featured a British flag in the canton with alternating red and white stripes throughout.
Why Was This Flag So Important?
The flag was unique in that it featured the British flag, but also represented the original 13 colonies. Not only was the flag unique, but so was the time period in which it was made— just before America broke from Britain, when gaining independence was a priority.
So why did they use the same colors as the British flag? Historians don’t have a concrete answer they can all agree on, but a common belief is that it was simply convenient. Others believe they remained the same due to the meanings behind the colors— white for purity, red for valor, and blue for the Chief of Justice.
Putting It All Together
So that’s the stripes. But where did the stars come from? We head back to George Washington for answers.
He took two flags with him on his return to Boston from Philadelphia. One flag was the one we’ve been talking about; the continental army flag.
The other was known as Washington’s Headquarters flag. This one was entirely covered by a blue field, and on that blue field were 13 white stars, each with six points. This is the first use of the star pattern in US history.
Keep in mind, though, that both of these flags were being used before the US declared its independence from Britain. While the two contributed to the American flag as we know it today, today’s flag still wasn’t in existence yet.
On June 14th 1777, Congress passed the first of three Flag Acts. The Acts were somewhat vague, and so they didn’t provide enough details to create one uniform flag.
Don’t forget, we’re in 1777— mass production and industrialization were both still a while away. There weren’t any factories to pump out identical flags! When a flag was needed, a sailmaker or seamstress was commissioned to make it, which meant that each flag was its own creation and a little different to the one before it and after it.
The Myth of Betsy Ross
We all learned in history class that Betsy Ross made the first American flag. But is that true?
Betsy Ross was an upholsterer who made flags for the Pennsylvania navy. Legend has it that years later, Ross’ grandson made a speech declaring that she had met with Washington and others to design the flag.
However, others believe Francis Hopkinson, who had his own legitimate claims to the flag design, was the original creator.
The debate rages on, but the point is, we’ve got our flag! While historians seek the truth, we’ll check out how the flag evolved over time.
A Disjointed Union
Remember the Flag Acts? The ones that weren’t going so well due to there being so many different versions of the flag? This was still causing issues. The Flag Acts didn’t specify if the stripes had to be horizontal or vertical, or where the blue field of white stars needed to be. Thanks to this lack of uniformity, several different versions of the flag were floating around and each one was up to the discretion of the flag maker. This caused flag design to hang in limbo for several years.
Bring On the Stars and Stripes
We jump to 1792, when the US had adopted two new states— Vermont and Kentucky. Of course, this posed further problems for flag design. The only agreement at the time was that there were 13 stars and 13 stripes, one for each state. Now there were 15 states. Drama!
Congress met and wrote the second of the three Flag Acts. In this second Flag Act, Congress determined that with the addition of each new state, the flag would gain one stripe and one star.
Clearly, they didn’t count on 50 states coming to the party.
Anyway, the new flag was made and called the Star Spangled Banner. This design flew over Fort McKinley, and was the flag Francis Scott Key saw when he penned the national anthem.
Then came 1812, the war, and the addition of even more states. Uh oh.
It’s Getting Crowded
The addition of new states meant more stars and stripes were needed, and Congress needed to step in once again. This prompted the third and final Flag Act, which stated the flag would go back to its original design of 13 stripes— but a new star would be added for each new state.
They didn’t specify the formation or design of the stars in the canton, though. Say it with me— uh oh. Flags from this period featured five or six points, stars in concentric or singular circles, and some even went meta and put the stars in a star shape. It was… a bit of a hot mess.
A Hero Emerges
1912’s President William Taft had had enough of the squabbling. The quiet achiever established the pattern of stars that we know today by issuing an edict requiring that:
- All stars had to have five points.
- The stars had to be in horizontal rows.
- The top point of the star had to point upwards.
While this is often glossed over in history books, its importance is unparalleled. After all, this is the flag we see and salute today! Since his edict, the flag has only changed with the addition of one singular, upward pointed, five pointed star per state.
Where To From Here?
We’ve had the same number of states since 1959, with the additions of Alaska and Hawaii, and so many of us haven’t stopped to consider what would happen if we were to add more. Whether it be one or five more, we’re sure the Internet would be ablaze with creators and designers coming up with reworkings!
The most likely scenario would be that we would simply add one more star to the canton. After all, this design has been working for so long— why fix what isn’t broken?
Want to Create Your Own Flag?
If this blog has helped get your creative juices flowing, don’t let them go to waste! At BestFlag we print custom flags, banners, tents, and displays to help you get your name out there. To get started on your fully customized, high-quality flag, get in touch today!