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Flag Day 2021: How Much Do You Know About the Stars and Stripes?

Learn the history behind this holiday that celebrates our Stars and Stripes, and brush up on the the important flag etiquette.

When Is Flag Day in 2021?

Monday, June 14 is Flag Day, a day of national observance for all Americans, but it is not a federal holiday. Each year, the President proclaims the commemoration and encourages all Americans in the country to display the flag outside their homes and businesses. Usually during Flag Day, the flag is flown from all public buildings, speeches are made in public places, and ceremonies take place in towns or cities.

A Little Flag Day History

There were few public ceremonies that honored the flag until June 14, 1877, when it was flown from every government building for the centennial of the flag’s adoption. After that, many citizens and organizations advocated the adoption of a national day of commemoration for the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson unofficially declared June 14 as Flag Day.

Coincidentally, Wilson also proclaimed “The Star-Spangled Banner” the U.S. national anthem that same year. Nonetheless, Congress did not designate the song as the national anthem until 1931, and only in 1949 did President Harry Truman sign the legislation that made June 14 of each year Flag Day.

Who Made the United States Flag?

While many of us learned that Betsy Ross, a seamstress from Philadelphia, was the designer of the flag, this legend has been discredited. According to many sources, President George Washington did visit Betsy in Philadelphia but had brought a flag design with him that contained 13 red and white stripes and 13 six-pointed stars set in a circle.

Accordingly, the only thing Ms. Ross suggested about the flag was to use five-pointed stars (mullets) rather than six-pointed ones (estoiles).  Many credit Betsy Ross for sewing one of the first US flags made out of wool bunting, but historians cannot confirm if she actually made the first flag ever.

Some credit Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, with the design of the original flag. Hopkinson himself felt that he was the designer and should be compensated for it by Congress, but Congress argued that many were responsible for the design so he was never paid.

Whomever really designed the flag, it is known that on June 14, 1777, the design with the stars and stripes became America’s official flag with this declaration by Congress: “The flag of the United States will be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white [and]…the union [canton] be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

The Stars and Stripes

As more states entered the Union more stars were added to the flag. In 1818, Congress passed the Flag Act, stipulating that the flag will always have 13 stripes (one for each of the original colonies) and that a star will be added for each new state on July 4 only.  As you can surmise, the flag changed frequently in the beginning, but hasn’t since the 49th and 50th stars for Alaska and Hawaii were added in 1959.

Flag Day Trivia

In honor of Flag Day, here are a few interesting pieces of trivia about our great Red, White, and Blue (Source:

  • When is it appropriate to fly the flag upside down? The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
  • Did you know that Francis Scott Key wrote the words to The Star-Spangled Banner” on the back of an envelope?
  • A vexillologist is an expert in the history of flags.

Learn The U.S. Flag Code: Rules and Etiquette

Whether you call it Old Glory, the Stars and Stripes, or the Star Spangled Banner, most of the rules, customs, and traditions governing the display of the American Flag come from a law called the U.S. Flag Code (United States Code Title 4, Chapter 1).

The military strictly adheres to the Flag Code, so if you have any questions about the proper way to treat or display the flag, it’s a foregone conclusion that any active or retired serviceperson you may know is going to have the answers. However, here is an overview of some of the main points of the flag code as a reference.

Know The Parts Of The Flag

The Union

The Union is the blue field on the flag, which today contains 50 white stars. Each star symbolically represents one of the United States. But no one star by location or position in the union represents any specific state. In the event a new state is added, the flag is changed with the addition of a new star, always on July 4th. The current 50-star flag has been in use since July 4, 1960, after Hawaii was admitted as the 50th state on August 21st, 1959.

The Stripes

Thirteen horizontal stripes alternating red and white, adorn the flag. These represent the original 13 colonies who declared independence from Great Britain in 1776. A red stripe appears at the very top of the flag, and at the very bottom as well. Seven red stripes and six white stripes also help us remember the year of our founding (“76”).

Respect For The Flag

American flags with sun in background

The flag of the United States should always be treated with deference, respect, and reverence. The Flag Code has many rules for the display of the flag, and most of these are common sense based on the idea that our flag should be given the prominence of honor when displayed with other flags or banners.

The flag represents a living country and good etiquette results from treating the symbol as if it were a living thing, representing the freedoms and ideals that founded our nation which we continue to hold dear. Allowing the flag to become damaged or neglected or inappropriately handled is a sign of disrespect. Therefore, citizens should stand at attention and salute when their flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered.

Some Flag Don’ts:

  • The flag of the United States of America should never be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organizational or institutional flags or banners may be dipped as a sign of honor, but not the American flag.
  • The flag should never be displayed with the Union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life and property.
  • The flag should never touch the ground or anything beneath it.
  • The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a way to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way.
  • The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.
  • The flag should never be marked up or written on in any way, not used as advertising, not embroidered on articles like cushions to sit on, or handkerchiefs, or printed on anything that is disposable, such as paper plates or napkins.
  • No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform, though a flag patch may be affixed to the uniform of military personnel, firemen, policemen, and members of patriotic organizations. A flag lapel pin is somewhat a special case, it is technically considered a replica of the flag, and should be worn on the left lapel, near the heart.

How To Properly Display The Flag

  • The most common way to display a flag is on a flagpole or staff. The flag should always be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. It’s customary to fly the flag from sunrise to sunset, and not in inclement weather. But all-weather flags are available; and if the flag is illuminated appropriately, it may be displayed at night for a patriotic effect.
  • No other flag or banner should be flown on a flagpole above the United States flag. (The one exception is a church pennant, which may be flown on a ship during church services by naval chaplains at sea for the personnel of the navy). In all situations, the flag of the United States of America should have a position of greatest honor when displayed with other flags or banners; for example, at the center or highest group when a number of flags of States or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs. If displayed with another flag against a wall from crossed staffs, the flag of the United States should be on the right (the flag’s own right), and its staff should be in front of the other flag.
  • When displayed horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is the observers left. A good rule of thumb is, just as we read from left to right, the static displayed flag should always be “read” by the viewer from left to right, with the union first. The exceptions to this rule are when a flag is seen as moving forward in a procession or battle, or even on a vehicle. Even though the union may appear to the viewer’s right, the sense is that the flag in motion is waving free with the blue field of the union still leading the way. On flag shoulder patches on military uniforms, the flag may seem “backward” to some, but it’s done so to represent the flag moving forward into battle, union first (on the flag’s own right), and stripes trailing. Another way to look at it is that on the right shoulder sleeve of a military uniform, the viewer is seeing the reverse side of the flag.
  • When the flag of the United States of America is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be affixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
  • When the flag is used to cover a casket, it should be so placed 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.
  • When the flag of the United States is to be shown at half-staff, it should be hoisted to the top of the staff first, then ceremoniously lowered to half-staff.
  • When displayed over a street, it should be suspended vertically with the union to the north in an east and west street, or to the east in a north and south street.
  • On a platform, it should be above and behind the speaker, with the union uppermost and to the observer’s left.
  • In cases when flags of other nations are displayed together with the flag of the United States during peacetime, they are to be flown on separate staffs of equal height at the same level, and equal size.
  • The flag of the United States should also be hoisted first and lowered last.

The Flag Should Be Displayed On All Days

Especially on these days:

  • New Year’s Day, January 1
  • Inauguration Day, January 20
  • Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
  • Lincoln’s Birthday, February 12
  • Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
  • Easter Sunday (variable)
  • Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
  • Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
  • Memorial Day (half-staff from sunrise until noon only, then raised briskly to the top of the staff until sunset), the last Monday in May
  • Flag Day, June 14
  • Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
  • Independence Day, July 4
  • Labor Day, first Monday in September
  • Constitution Day, September 17
  • Columbus Day, second Monday in October
  • Navy Day, October 27
  • Veterans Day, November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
  • Christmas Day, December 25 and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States
  • The birthdays of States (date of admission)
  • State holidays.

How to Dispose of a Worn or Damaged Flag

The proper way to dispose of or retire a flag is by burning. However, this burning should be done ceremoniously, with great respect and discretion. Burning the flag in public can be seen as a sign of rebellion or protest. It is customary to collect the ashes of a burnt flag and bury them with honor.

The best way to show respect for your old flag after retiring it is to proudly hoist a new flag. You are showing respect for the flag by always showing it at its best, clean, with bright colors, waving majestically over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Take a look at this video on how to display and fold the American Flag:

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Earl P. Williams, Jr.

The consensus among flag historians is that Francis Hopkinson designed the American flag. (See: Leepson, Marc. “Flag: An American Biography. St. Martin’s Griffin. 2005. p. 33.) According to the Wikipedia article on Francis Hopkinson, he designed two Stars and Stripes flags: (1) one for the United States and (2) one for the U.S. Navy, which later became the favored National flag. The Wikipedia article also indicates that, in all likelihood, Congress rejected Hopkinson’s claim for payment not because of his flag designs, but because he was not the only consultant who co-designed the Great Seal of the United States. Congress created three Great Seal committees but never created a U.S. flag committee. Instead, the Continental Marine (maritime) Committee sponsored the U.S. Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777. This committee had no U.S. flag or Navy flag consultants. Hopkinson was a member of the Marine Committee in 1776. He later ran the Continental Navy — which was under the Marine Committee — from the fall of 1776 throughout 1777.

The Wikipedia article on Betsy Ross indicates that she made “ship’s colours” (naval flags) for the Pennsylvania navy during the Revolutionary War. These flags looked nothing like the U.S. flag. After the Revolution, Mrs. Ross made U.S. flags for 50 years. She contributed the five-pointed star to the U.S. flag, which superseded the Flag’s six- and eight-pointed stars previously in use. (See also the Wikipedia article on the Betsy Ross Flag.) Earl P. Williams, Jr., U.S. flag historian/ paleovexillologist

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