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 History
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.”
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:
- 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.
Trivia from USHistory.org
Happy Flag Day!