The American Flag from 1777 until 1960
The American Flag, somewhat in the form we know today, was adopted on June 14, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress passed a Flag Resolution. It stated, “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Though somewhat descriptive, there were 27 variations from the first Stars and Stripes until the current flag adopted on July 4, 1960 with the admission of Hawaii to the United States.
Design of the American Flag
There are a few stories that are legend in the design and making of the U.S. Flag.
A signer of the Declaration of Independence and a naval flag designer, Hopkinson designed the naval flag and also the U.S. flag in 1777 – however, the public preferred the naval design for the national flag. It wasn’t until 1780 that a bill was sent to Congress for payment for his design. He requested a “Quarter Cask of the Public Wine” as payment for design of the U.S. flag as well as for the Great Seal of the United States and other seals. However in his following bills, he only mentioned the design for the naval flag, not the U.S., in addition to the other seals. He received no payment because he was paid a salary as a member of Congress at the time they were created.
The legend of Betsy Ross sewing the first flag from a sketch given to her by George Washington has no proof. It was never mentioned until her grandson suggested the scenario almost a century after the first flag was created.
Another rumor came from the family of Rebecca Young. They claimed it was she who sewed the first flag. There was flag-making in the family as it was her daughter, Mary Pickersgill, who sewed the Star Spangled Banner Flag. The family believed she was inspired by a 15th century window in Selby Abbey showing stars and stripes in the Washington family coat of arms.
The progression of the American Flag design started with the Union Jack as both have the seven red and six white stripes.
In 1818, Congress passed an Act that specified a new star would be added to the flag as each new state was admitted.
Until the 48-star flag adopted in 1912, there were no standard arrangements for the stars, except in the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. Stars were in circles, rectangles, star patterns, almost any shape.
The History of Flag Day
Through all this history, there had been no day set aside to focus on the U.S. Flag. Today, Flag Day is unknown to most U.S. citizens, but June 14th is the day set aside to honor our flag.
The commemoration of the Flag originated in Wisconsin in 1885 when a schoolteacher, BJ Cigrand, had his students celebrate the day as the anniversary of the official adoption of the U.S. Flag which occurred 108 years previously. The first years, the day was known as the ‘Flag Birthday’ but later known as ‘Flag Day.’ It was observed through special commemorations at schools, articles in magazines, newspapers, and even public speeches. There were assemblies with patriotic songs, the gifting of small flags for children, and the request that all citizens in Wisconsin display the flag on that day.
In 1894, the mayor of New York proclaimed all public buildings should fly the flag on June 14th. That same year 300,000 children gathered at parks in Chicago to celebrate the day.
The first national celebration was established on May 30th, 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed June 14th as Flag Day. Though it was celebrated in many communities across the nation in the following years, it was on August 3rd, 1949, when President Truman signed the Congressional Act designating June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.
National Flag Day in 2018
Though the day shows up on most calendars and there are some who make it a practice to fly our flag at home and businesses, most people think little of the day and its history as they look forward to the Fourth of July. Today the flag is sometimes a controversial icon. Many have fought and died for this piece of cloth and the freedoms it represents, including the freedom to revere and respect it as well as the freedom to express differing opinions and even abuse it. Yet, the flag represents now – as well as in the past – a country founded on freedoms expressed in the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.
While there will be few, if any, events honoring our flag tomorrow, it provides the chance to reflect for a moment on this country and those who have defended the flag representing our rights.
Long may she wave.