The flag of the United States is probably the most recognizable flag in the world. It makes most Americans swell with pride when seen flying from a ship going into battle or on the clothing of fellow Americans arriving at the scene of a disaster to help survivors.
Some of the most iconic images from our history are centered around the flag. Many of us have seen pictures of the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima, astronauts planting the flag on the moon or firefighters hoisting the flag at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11.
Our flag has been celebrated in music. Two of the oldest are “You’re a Grand Old Flag” by George M. Cohan and “The Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa. The latter is, by Act of Congress, the National March. The most well known is “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the national anthem. Many contemporary songs also celebrate the flag and America.
The flag has a long history. The Grand Union Flag is considered to be the first national flag of the United States of America and was in use from December 3, 1775, to June 14, 1777. It consists of 13 alternating red and white stripes (like all but one subsequent American flag) and the British Union Jack in the upper left corner. The Betsy Ross flag (which was probably not sewn by her) was not an official flag, but one of several in use at the time.
The second flag was designed by Francis Hopkinson, who is commemorated as the “Father of the Stars and Stripes” the United States Postal Service in 1992. It was used from June 14, 1777, until April 30, 1795. (The 14th state’s, Vermont, star was not included until 1795, though it was admitted to the Union on March 4, 1791.) This is the only flag that has 15 stripes.
The third flag has 20 stars and 13 stripes. The lag of over 20 years was because the federal government could not decide how to redesign the flag with the admittance of each state. This flag set the precedent for the addition of one star for each state. Also, this was the first flag to be made official on the next July 4th after the admittance of a state to the Union. All subsequent flags’ first day of use was on a July 4th.
The year 1890 was the last year that there was more than one design of the flag, though only the designs with rows of stars and 13 stripes (or 15 stripes in the case of the third flag) were the official flags of the United States.
The flag we see flying over government buildings, schools and on front porches has been in use since 1960.
In 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued an executive order determining the design and colors of the flag. The canton (the upper left field of stars) is to be two-fifths of the width of the flag. This order also defines the proportional width of the stripes and the stars. No other flag is “official” if it does not adhere to the design and dimensions outlined in this order.
The flag has several nicknames: Old Glory; the Red, White and Blue; the Star-Spangled Banner; and the Stars and Stripes.
NOPL at North Syracuse has been “flag bombed” in honor of Flag Day, June 14. It has on display a tree of knitted mini flags. Also, there are 28 knitted flags, representing each official design. The flags were knitted by the NOPL Knitters — North Syracuse. We hope that you will visit the library to help celebrate the great history of the Flag of the United States.
A good place to start to obtain more information about the Flag of the United States is your local library.