The History of the American flag- Complete analysis.
Whether we celebrate July 4th or June 14th, the American flag resides at the heart of these celebrations.
The combination of red, white, and blue is not a mere coincidence. It has a long history of several changes, and today we have the American flag with 50 stars.
But do we know how the modern flag came into existence?
This short history of the U.S flag will let your patriotic mind find some peace!
The current American flag anatomy.
The modern American flag can be broken down into 3 parts-
- The Horizontal red stripes.
- The horizontal white stripes.
- The 50 white stars on a blue background.
In total, there are 13 equal stripes of white and red- 6 stripes of white and 7 stripes of red.
The stars in the blue rectangle are placed in the canton of the flag (upper left-hand side). There are 9 rows of stars with rows of 6 stars and 5 stars alternating.
According to Charles Thomson, the meaning of these colors are as follows:
- Red depicts hardiness and valor.
- Blue depicts vigilance, perseverance and justice.
- White depicts innocence and purity.
The 50 stars represent the 50 U.S states as of now. And it can change if any states are added in the future. The 13 stripes represent the first original states of the U.S.
Flags before the American flag.
Image Source: Wikimedia
Before 1776, there was no united flag of America. Instead, different units and regiments used their own flag for communicating their allegiance.
From, the book ‘Flag: An American Biography’, we could only know about two other flags that were used by the colonists.
There was a coiled rattlesnake flag with a slogan- ‘Don’t Tread on Me’. While the simplest being the flag with a pine tree and written words- ‘An appeal to heaven’.
Continental colors- The first flag.
Image Source: Wikimedia
Did you know that the first unofficial national flag of the United States was a resemblance to the flag of British East India Company?
This flag was first displayed in 1776 when the British attacked the Prospect Hill.
George Washington famously commanded the soldiers to display the flag and came to be known as Continental Colors.
The Continental Colors had 13 red and white stripes and a British flag at the canton area.
George Preble, later in 1872, gave the name- ‘Grand Union’ to this flag.
Though there is no written evidence proving the point that the flag was inspired by the East India Company flag, the resemblance garnered lots of critics. Benjamin Franklin and Sir Charles Fawcett both heavily criticized the Continental Colors flag.
The establishment of stars and stripes.
In June 1777, the first-ever flag Act was created by the Continental Congress.
This act provided some solid ground and a standard of what the U.S flag should have. But lacked in detail, which resulted in flags of various designs.
The rule was that the American flag should have 13 stripes of red and white. And in the canton area, there should be 13 stars within a blue background.
As you can clearly get the idea, that Act didn’t specify the number of white stripes or red stripes the flag should contain. Also, the arrangement of the stars, whether in rows or circles, was also not specified.
This totally depended on the flag maker. Some made the stars arranged in a circle, others made one big star with the 13 stars.
Francis Hopkinson- first designer of stars and stripes (probably)
Image Source: Wikimedia
Though there is no official record that presents the name of the designer of the first flag, we found two people who claimed that they designed the flag.
It is Francis Hopkinson and Betsy Ross. We will get to Betsy Ross later.
Hopkinson was a member of the Congress and claimed to design both the Navy flag and the national flag.
His version of the flag had seven white stripes and six red stripes.
But there is no conclusive evidence supporting this fact.
The story of the Betsy Ross flag.
The Betsy Ross story of designing the first flag is a popular one.
The story takes us back to 1776 when George Washington visited Ross at her upholstery shop. Washington initially created the design with stars and stripes and Ross created the flag for him.
The story became public when William Canby, Ross’s grandson, gave a speech in 1870 at the Philadelphia Historical Society.
But there is no evidence to support the claim in Congress records or the diaries of George Washington.
If Ross’s version of the story is true, then we have to rule out the possibility of Hopkinson as the designer of the first flag.
Ross’s flag claimed to have 13 stars lined up in a circle. Due to the lack of official guidelines at that time, several other designs were crafted in the years that followed.
The 15-star flag- Inspiration for the national anthem.
The stars in the U.S flag remained at 13 until 1795. This was the time when two more states Vermont and Kentucky, were added. So, in 1795, a new flag was designed with 15 stars and 15 stripes.
The flag was popularly known as the Star-spangled banner. This inspired Lawyer Francis Scott to write the poem that became the U.S national anthem later.
The standardization of the American flag.
From 1796 to 1817, 5 more states were admitted, which included- Tennessee, Ohio, Lousiana, Indiana, and Mississippi.
To standardize the design, Congress passed a plan that changed the design of the then-current flag from 15 to 20 stars and also instructed to add one star for every new state that will be added. The stripes were reduced to 13 to honor the 13 original U.S states.
The look of the flag still remained undecided, and flag makers made them the way they like keeping the number and colors of the stars and stripes right.
By the 1912 executive order by President William Howard Taft, the look of the flag was standardized.
And in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson declared June 14 as the national flag day.
The modern 50-star flag.
The current U.S flag has 50 stars. The last of the stars were added in 1960 when Hawaii became a U.S state officially.
This is the longest-running U.S flag that has been in use for 59 years. The last record for the longest-running flag was from 1912 to 1959, which was broken in 2007 by the 50-star flag.
- 1 The current American flag anatomy.
- 2 Flags before the American flag.
- 3 Continental colors- The first flag.
- 4 The establishment of stars and stripes.
- 5 Francis Hopkinson- first designer of stars and stripes (probably)
- 6 The story of the Betsy Ross flag.
- 7 The 15-star flag- Inspiration for the national anthem.
- 8 The standardization of the American flag.
- 9 The modern 50-star flag.
- 10 References
The argument that Francis Hopkinson did design the Stars and Stripes has been accepted by most scholars and historians. See (1) “Flag: A Biography” by Marc Leepson, (2) the Wikipedia article on Francis Hopkinson, (3) the Wikipedia article on the Flag of the United States, and (4) the Wikipedia article on the Great Seal of the United States. Hopkinson was the only person to directly claim credit for designing the Stars and Stripes, which Congress adopted via a resolution from the Continental Marine (maritime) Committee on June 14, 1777. Hopkinson asked Congress to pay him for several designs that he made for the government, including the Stars and Stripes. Congress did entertain his request as legitimate. However, he was not the only consultant involved in designing the Great Seal of the United States, and thus, could not be paid the full sum that he billed Congress. In total, Hopkinson sent government authorities four letters for his work, including a letter to the Admiralty Board and three bills to Congress. Betsy Ross made “ship’s colours” for the Pennsylvania navy during the American Revolution. After the War, she made U.S. flags for 50 years. See the Wikipedia articles on (1) Betsy Ross and (2) the Betsy Ross Flag. Earl P. Williams, Jr., U.S. flag historian (paleovexillologist)
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