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FLAG DAY HISTORY

American FlagAmerican Flag

FLAG DAY - JUNE 14 

On June 14, Americans have the opportunity to proclaim our respect and honor for our country by flying the American flag in the front of our homes, attending a Flag Day parade or other patriotic observances, and teaching our children about the history of the American flag and Flag Day.

The date of June 14 was chosen for Flag Day because it commemorates the date of June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress adopted the first design for the national flag of the United States.

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation establishing June 14 as a national Flag Day.

In 1927, President Coolidge also issued a Flag Day presidential proclamation.

But it wasn’t until August 3, 1949, that Congress enacted legislation designating June 14 as the national Flag Day and President Truman signed the legislation into law.

This legislation also called upon the sitting president to issue a flag day proclamation every year. However, Flag Day is not an official holiday except in Pennsylvania.

AMERICAN FLAG HISTORY

At the time of the American Revolution in 1775, most regiments fought against the British under their own flags. In June of 1775, the Second Continental Congress created the Continental Army, with the hope of building a more organized battle plan, and the Continental Army needed to fly its own flag.

This eventually led to the first American flag known as the Continental Colors flag. It has also been called the Grand Union Flag, the Congress Flag, the Cambridge Flag and the First Navy Ensign.

The Continental Colors FlagThe Continental Colors Flag

The Continental Colors Flag consisted of 13 red and white alternating stripes and a Union Jack in the corner. Some felt this flag was too like that of the British and George Washington wanted the soon-to-be nation to have a new symbol of freedom.

Therefore, on June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the now famous resolution (the Flag Act) that stated the colors and design of the new American flag.

The Flag Act stated: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

The design of the American flag has been modified 27 times since then. In 1959, President Eisenhower ordered the 50th star for Hawaii, the last state to join the United States.

There were several variations of the early American flag used in different battles around the county. Below are some examples:

The Guilford FlagThe Guilford Flag
Serapis or John Paul Jones Flag with Alternating Red, White, and Blue Stripes and 8 pointed stars(also known as the Franklin Flag.Serapis or John Paul Jones Flag with Alternating Red, White, and Blue Stripes and 8 pointed stars(also known as the Franklin Flag.
Another 13 Star FlagAnother 13 Star Flag
Cowpens FlagCowpens Flag
Bennington or Filmore FlagBennington or Filmore Flag

After Vermont and Kentucky joined the union in 1791 and 1792, a Congressional act of 1794 adopted a flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, effective in May of 1795.

American Flag with 15 StripesAmerican Flag with 15 Stripes

In 1818, a Congressional act mandated the stripes be fixed at 13 and one new star be added on the 4th of July after each state’s admission to the Union. 

There were no rules, however, for the arrangement of the stars. Thus in 1818, when the US consisted of 20 states, several flags were used simultaneously with different arrangements.  

1818 20 Star American Flag1818 20 Star American Flag
1818 20 Star American Flag1818 20 Star American Flag
1818 20 Star American Flag1818 20 Star American Flag

THE MYSTERY OF WHO CREATED THE FIRST AMERICAN FLAG!

Who created the first American flag? Was it Betsy Ross or Francis Hopkinson? History has thus far had no sufficient evidence to prove one way or another who actually created the first flag. What evidence we do have suggests that Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed the United States flag (even though his sketches have been lost) and Betsy Ross made improvements to Hopkinson’s design and sewed the first flag.

Betsy Ross was an upholsterer and upholsterers normally were not flag makers. However, Betsy Ross and George Washington were parishioners at the same church. Ross had actually sewn some buttons for Washington and had at one time made some flags for the Pennsylvania State Navy Board.

It is thought that George Washington himself asked Betsey Ross to sew the first flag. It is also possible that Colonel George Ross, Betsy’s deceased husband’s uncle and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, may have recommended her for the job.

Francis Hopkinson’s design featured six-sided stars and Ross demonstrated that 5-sided stars would be much easier to manufacture. She also suggested the proportions be changed from a square flag to one that would be one third longer than its width.

Besides changing from 6-sided stars to 5-sided stars, she suggested that the stars should not be scattered over the field but be either in lines or in some other form such as a circle or a star. Her ideas were adopted.

Unfortunately, the flag purported to have been the first flag created by Betsy Ross does not exist today.

Betsy Ross FlagBetsy Ross Flag

CURRENT FLAG DESIGN

In 1958 Robert Heft was an 18-year-old high school student in Lancaster, Ohio. The high school class project for that year was to produce a new flag design for 50 stars, needed because stars for new states Alaska and Hawaii had to be included.

Heft’s design received a B-. He asked his teacher if his grade would be changed to an A if his design was accepted by Congress. In 1959, Heft’s design was accepted, and he received his A grade!

Heft’s flag was officially raised for the first time on the 4th of July in 1960 at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry.

WHAT DO THE COLORS OF THE FLAG REPRESENT?

There is no remaining record and no official designation or meaning for the red, white, and blue colors of the flag. However, the 1782 Congress of the Confederation chose those colors for the Great Seal of the United State for the following reasons:

  • Red stands for valor and hardiness.
  • White stands for purity and innocence.

  • Blue stands for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

There is also a legend that George Washington saw the stars as being taken from the sky, the red from the British colors, and the white stripes signified the secession from the home country.

WHY WERE THERE ORIGINALLY 13 STARS IN A CIRCLE?

The 13 stars are in a circle on the first American flag so that no one colony would be viewed above another. George Washington is reported as saying the 13 stars in a circle would stand as a new constellation in the heavens.

The 13 stars, of course represent the 13 original colonies:

Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, and Rhode Island.

WHY IS THE FLAG CALLED 'OLD GLORY?'

Old Glory became a nickname for all American flags when young Captain William Driver, a shipmaster from Salem, Massachusetts, received a flag of 24 stars from his mother and friends, which he hoisted on his first ship. As the flag opened to the ocean breeze, he christened it ‘Old Glory.’

After he left the sea, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee, and on every holiday, he displayed 'Old Glory' outside his house by a rope extending from an upstairs room to a tree across the street.

When the Union army occupied Nashville, Driver gave the flag to the troops to be flown for a short time over the State Capitol.

WHICH FLAG WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THE SONG,
'THE STAR-SPANGLED BANNER'?

The inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write what would become our National Anthem was a very large flag (30’x42’), sewed by Mary Young Pickersgill in the summer of 1813.

This flag was flown over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 and today it hangs at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

OBSERVANCES OF FLAG DAY

Though the American flag was adopted in 1777, it took almost an entire century for the first official observance of Flag Day.

Here is a timeline summary…

1861 In the summer of 1861, it is believed the first celebration of Flag day occurred in Hartford, Connecticut.

Late 1800sIn the late 1800s, in order to contribute to the Americanization of immigrant children, Flag Day programs were held in individual communities.

1885 - Wisconsin teacher, Bernard Cigrand, originated the idea for a national flag day.

1888 - William T. Kerr is credited with founding the American Flag Day Association in 1888 while he was still a schoolboy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

1889On June 14, 1889, Professor George Bolch, who was principal of a free kindergarten for the poor of New York City, had his school hold patriotic ceremonies in observance of the anniversary of the Flag Day resolution. Because of his initiative, the State Department of Education arranged to have the day observed in all public schools and the state legislature soon passed a law to ensure that all schools hold observances for Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, and Flag Day.

1893 –In 1893 in Philadelphia, the Society of Colonial Dames were able to get a resolution passed to have the flag displayed on all of the city’s public buildings. The same year they tried to get the city to call June 14 Flag Day but they did not succeed.

1897 – In 1897, the governor of New York ordered that the flag be displayed over all public buildings in the state. This is considered the first official recognition of the anniversary of the adoption of the flag outside of schools.

1916 - President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation asking for June 14 to be observed as National Flag Day.

1927 – President Coolidge issued a proclamation asking for June 14 to be observed as National Flag Day.

1937 - On May 7, 1937, Pennsylvania became the first state to establish the date of June 14 as Flag Day, the only state that recognizes it as a legal holiday.

1949 - On August 3, 1949, Congress approved the national observance of Flag Day on June 14 each year and President Truman signed it into law.

GENERAL FLAG ETIQUETTE

Flag CeremonyFlag Ceremony
  • During ceremonial and official settings, the American flag is flown only between dawn and dusk and never in inclement weather.
  • If the flag is flown at night, such as on some high buildings, it should be spotlighted.
  • The flag should be flown vertically with the stars and blue field (the union) at the top and to the viewer’s left. When the flag is hung upside down with the stars and blue field at the bottom, this is a distress symbol.
  • The flag should never be allowed to touch the ground or anything beneath it.
  • The flag should never be dipped toward any person or object.
  • When it is raised or lowered in a public ceremony, or passes by in a parade or review, we should face the flag and place our right hand over our heart.
  • When the flag is displayed, all present should face the flag and salute, private citizens with their right hand on their hearts and military people with the conventional salute.

DISPLAY POSITIONS ETIQUETTE

US Flag Hung on a Wall or Displayed in a Window

 The flag can be vertical or horizontal, but the union (blue field with 50 stars) should be at the top and to the observer’s left.

Flags Hung on WallFlags Hung on Wall

Flags Hung From the Same Halyard (rope used to hoist and lower a flag)

The United States flag should always be at the top.

Hung from the Same HalyardHung from the Same Halyard

Flags Hung on Adjacent Staffs

The United States flag should be hoisted first and lowered last. No flag or pennant can be flown above the United States flag.

Flags Hung on Adjacent Staffs with the US FlagFlags Hung on Adjacent Staffs with the US Flag

Flags Hung in a Group

When displaying the United States flag in a group with other state, city, organization, institution, etc. flags, the United States flag should be in the center and at the highest point of the group.

Position of US flag within a GroupPosition of US flag within a Group

Flags With Crossed Staffs

The United States flag should be on the flag's right and its staff should be in front of the other flag.

US flag and Another with Crossed StaffsUS flag and Another with Crossed Staffs

US Flag Hung With Other International Flags

When in the United States, the US flag is to be displayed first followed by the flags of all other nations (at equal height and in alphabetical order and approximately the same size) to the observer’s right side of the US flag.

In times of peace, no nation’s flag can be displayed over another nation’s flag as per international customs.

US Flag Flown with Other International FlagsUS Flag Flown with Other International Flags

Flags Displayed On a Speaker Platform

If the United States flag is displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, it should be in the position of honor at the clergy’s or speaker’s right as he or she faces the audience.

Any other flag may be displayed but should be placed on the left of the clergy or speaker (to the right of the audience).

If displaying the United States flag flat, it should be displayed above and behind the speaker.

Display on a Speaker PlatformDisplay on a Speaker Platform

Position of US flag Displayed with Other Flags Except at United Nations Headquarters

No other flag may be displayed above or in a position of superior prominence to the flag of the United States at any place within the United States or any of its territories.

However, at the headquarters of the United Nations, the flag of the United Nations can be displayed in a position of superior honor, and other national flags can be displayed in positions of equal honor with that of the United States.

US Flag Suspended in a Building or at an Entrance

When the flag is displayed across a corridor or lobby in a building with only one main entrance, it should be suspended vertically with the union of the flag to the observer’s left upon entering.

If a building has more than one main entrance and entrances are to the east and west, the flag should be suspended vertically near the center of the corridor or lobby, with the union t0 the north.

When entrances are to the north and south, the union should be to the east.

If there are entrances in more than 2 directions, the union should be to the east.

Flag Suspended in BuildingFlag Suspended in Building

When the US Flag is Displayed over the Middle of a Street

When the United States flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended with the union to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.

US Flag Never To Be Used as a Statue or Monument Covering

The flag should never be used as the covering for a statue or monument.

When US Flag is Flown at Half-Staff

When the flag is flown at half-staff, it should be hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day.

On Memorial Day, the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon only, then raised to the top of the staff.

US Flag on a Casket

When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be placed so that the union is at the head and over the left shoulder.

The flag should not be lowered into the grave or allowed to touch the ground.

US Flag on a Motorcycle

On a motorcycle, the flag needs to be flown at the center on the back of the motorcycle or to the right side of the motorcycle (when the rider is facing forward). If another flag is flown with the US flag, the US flag should be to the right and of the same size and height of the US Flag. When flying the US flag with several other flags, the US flag is placed at the center and highest.

Flag on a MotorcycleFlag on a Motorcycle

Flag Draped or Displayed On a Vehicle, Railroad Train or Boat.

The flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle or of a railroad train or a boat. When flown on a car, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.

When displayed on a vehicle without a staff, the union on the driver’s side of the vehicle should be to the viewer’s left while the union on the passenger side of the vehicle would be to the viewer’s right.

Flag Displayed on Vehicle

Lapel Flag Pins
Lapel flag pins should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

Arm Patches

When a flag patch is affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations, the flag patch on the left sleeve of a uniform should have the union to the viewer’s left while a patch on the right sleeve should be displayed with the union to the viewer’s right so that in both cases the flag is facing forward.

Flag on UniformsFlag on Uniforms

FLAG DAY TODAY

A large number of American flags will be displayed on homes throughout the country on June 14th. Unfortunately, the beautiful flag ceremonies that were once understood by every young child are rarely performed today except at official functions.

Dislaying the Flag Outside HomeDislaying the Flag Outside Home

Our flag has evolved since its inception and acceptance and has taken its place in popular culture. Where once it was considered scandalous to wear flags or flag patterns on clothing, today people wear the stars and stripes on hats, shirts, and jackets to celebrate every patriotic holiday.

Flag Design ClothingFlag Design Clothing
Flag T-ShirtsFlag T-Shirts

Flag day gives us all a chance to display the flag and to learn about its history. It is as important today as it was back in 1777 for us to take the time to wave our ‘Old Glory’ in honor of our freedom. Flag day can reaffirm our loyalty to our nation and bring us all together to celebrate our nation’s core values of liberty justice, and unity.

Please see Flag timeline (ushistory.org) for a very interesting timeline article about the evolution of the American flag, the admission of the states, legislation and the supreme court decision about flag desecration, inclusion of ‘under God’ in the Pledge of Allegiance, freedom of speech, and much more.

For additional information on the US flag, as well as a wealth of information to be found in a plethora of articles on the history of the US and the world, please click here.


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