History of Our American Flag

The U.S. Flag on Independence Day, 1776: The flag used by the colonies to indicate their new national status was the Continental Colors or Grand Union (or Cambridge or Congress) flag. If flew from the Alfred on December 3, 1775, and near Washington's headquarters at Cambridge MA on January 2, 1776 [see Earl Williams, "What You Should Know about the American Flag", (Thomas Publ., Gettysburg PA, 1992)].


The First Official U.S. Flag: On 1777 June 14 Congress adopted a resolution from the Marine Committee that the flag have thirteen stripes alternating red and white, with thirteen white stars in a blue field. Francis Hopkinson is the only person who ever claimed to have designed (not made) the first "stars and stripes". There is historical evidence that he designed it using six-pointed stars in a staggered row configuration (shown below). The Flag Guys have posted
the evidence for Hopkinson.


Betsy Ross's descendants claimed she made (not designed) the first U.S. flag, using a circular arrangement of five-pointed stars. Independence Hall Association has posted
the evidence for Ross. The "Betsy Ross" flag is well-known and well-loved around the world. We salute both flags and both designers as proud symbols and staunch patriots of our young nation.
David Martinucci provides notes on Continental Flag and has many other pages on U.S. flags,

The Flag Guys, a vendor of flags, provides infomation on
the Hopkinson Flag

The California Society SR (Sons of the Revolution) shows many
flags and uniforms of the Revolutionary War.

The Star-Spangled Banner: After Vermont and Kentucky became states in 1795, two more stars were added. Two more stripes were also added. It became clear that adding stripes would make construction of a flag difficult, so the number of stripes for later flags was returned to the original thirteen. During the War of 1812 the base commander of Fort McHenry (in Baltimore MD) paid to have a huge flag made for the fort to show defiance to the British and to keep American spirits up during an expected British attack. This flag is generally known as the Star-Spangled Banner. It inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem that was set to music and later became our national anthem. Here are the words and music for the anthem. John Phillip Sousa wrote The Stars and Stripes Forever March, which became our national march. Here are the words and music for the march.

Historic flags that have symbolized our nation since 1776 are displayed by the University of Oklahoma


Displaying the Flag Properly
U.S. Flag Ettiquette -- including ettiquette for saying the pledge of Allegiance, for singing the National Anthem, and for disposing of worn-out flags. There is also a quiz to test your knowledge of proper flag display.
What is Flag Day? June 14 has been designated as a day for special displays of our flag and reflection on the role of the flag in reminding us and informing others of our national identity and the unique system of governance that it represents. Duane Streufert's U.S. flag site (see above) tells the history of Flag Day.
The National Flag Day Foundation also helps educate people about our flag.

The Amendment to Prohibit Flag Desecration : The National Congress of the Sons of the American Revolution passed a resolution supporting the efforts of Congress to pass a resolution permitting prosecution of people who desecrate the U.S. flag. The proposed amendment contains only seventeen words:

"The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States."
It leaves to later legislation such matters as
-- what will be considered a flag (historic flags, patches, sections, prints, nonstandard dimensions or colors or numbers of stars or stripes)
-- what constitutes physical desecration (dirt, wear, neglect, bad ettiquette, intent)

-- how the prohibition will be enforced (laws, codes, designated enforcement agencies, sentences)

For further information on this issue, see the Web site of the
Citizens Flag Alliance.

Books on the Flag
What You Should Know about the American Flag, 2nd rev. ed. by Earl P. Willimas, Jr. (Thomas Publications, Gettysburg PA, 1992) - 52 pages 5.5 x 8.5 inches, a concise history of the U.S. flag with many one-page stories of special flags, suitable to supplement grade school history classes

Your Flag, compiled by Al Stenzel (Boy Scouts of America, Irving TX, 1986 - and likely later editions) - 64 pages 7 x 10 inches, history, use, and ceremonies for the U.S. flag and many others in U.S. history

The Stars and Stripes, by Boelslaw and Marie-Louise D'Orange Mastai (Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth TX, 1973) - 64 pages 8.5 x 9.5 inches, a book written for the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence, giving the history of the "stars and stripes" and presenting 144 color and 157 monochrome photos of historic U.S. flags.

Flags to Color from the American Revolution (Bellerophon Books, Santa Barbara CA, 1996) - 32 pages 8.5 by 5.5 inches, a coloring book with dozens of national, militia, and naval flags, including brief notes on their creation and use. This will interest both grade schoolers and history buffs.

The Story of Our Flag, (Bellerophon Books, Santa Barbara CA, 1996) - 32 pages 8.5 x 11 inches, a coloring book with dozens of national, militia, and naval flags, including brief notes on their creation and use. This will interest both grade schoolers, high schoolers, and history buffs.

The Flag Book of the United States (bibliographic info not yet obtained) - an advanced scholar's work

Flags through the Ages and across the World, by Whitney Smith (bibliographic info not yet obtained) - a more general text


I was born on June 14, 1777

I am more than just a cloth shaped into a design

I am the refuge of the world's oppressed.

I am the silent sentinel of freedom

I am the inspiration for which American patriots gave their lives and fortunes.

I have led your sons into battle from Valley Forge to the bloody jungles of Vietnam

I walk in silence with your honored dead to their resting places beneath the silent white crosses, row on row.

I have flown through peace and war, strife and prosperity and amidst it all, I have been respected.

My red stripes symbolize the blood spilled in defense of this glorious nation.

My white stripes signify the burning tears shed by Americans who have lost their sons

My blue field is indicative of God's heaven under which I fly

My stars are clustered together unifying 50 states in one, for God and country

"Old Glory" is my nickname, and I proudly wave on high

Honor me, respect me, defend me with your lives and your fortunes.

never let my enemies tear me down from my lofty position, lest I never return.

Keep alight the fires of patriotism

Strive earnestly for the spirit of democracy

Worship eternal God and keep his commandments

And I shall remain the bulwark of peace and freedom for all mankind

Author Unknown

National Symbol

by Charles Evans Hughes

The flag is the symbol of our national unity, our national endeavor, our national aspiration.
The flag tells of the struggle for independence, of union preserved, of liberty and union one and inseparable, of the sacrifices of brave men and women to whom the ideals and honor of this nation have been dearer than life.
It means America first; it means an undivided allegiance.
It means America united, strong and efficient, equal to her tasks.
It means that you cannot be saved by the valor and devotion of your ancestors, that to each generation comes its patriotic duty; and that upon your willingness to sacrifice and endure as those before you have sacrificed and endured rests the national hope.
It speaks of equal rights, of the inspiration of free institutions exemplified and vindicated, of liberty under law intelligently conceived and impartially administrated. There is not a thread in it but scorns self-indulgence, weakness, and rapacity.
It is eloquent of our community interests, outweighing all divergencies of opinion, and of our common destiny.