In Honor of National Freedom Day: Fun Facts About the U.S. Flag
The flag of the United States of America is a potent symbol recognized around the globe. Over the centuries, it has represented peace, war, unity, rebellion, patriotism, pride, sadness, triumph, and hope. As Americans, we grew up learning about the flag in school and admiring its bright colors and pretty stars fluttering in the breeze during recess. We all know Old Glory to be red, white, and blue, containing 50 stars and 13 stripes. However, there are some interesting, lesser-known facts about the American flag that are likely not taught in grade school.
Executive OrdersThe American flag that we all know today came about via a series of acts and executive orders. The Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777, established the original design of the flag, detailing that it contains "thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." From 1777 to 1912, there were no guidelines regarding flag dimensions or the arrangements of the stars. As a result, until President Taft's Executive Order of June 24, 1912, U.S. flags were made in all sizes with an odd star order and spacing depending on who made the flag. President Eisenhower's Executive Order of August 21, 1959 is responsible for bringing about the current look of the U.S. flag. It stated that the stars should be positioned in nine rows, horizontally staggered, and eleven rows of stars, similarly zigzagged vertically.
Who Designed Our Current Flag?Eisenhower's executive order decision was heavily influenced by a 17-year-old boy. Eisenhower was accepting flag design entries from the public while it was being deliberated whether Alaska and Hawaii would become U.S. states. Out of 1,500 submissions, the design of a high school student named Robert Heft design was chosen and is now the flag we all see today. Though Heft passed away in 2009, he claimed that he held copyrighted designs for American flags with 51 and all the way up to 60 stars.
The Meaning of Our FlagYou likely know that the 50 stars represent the 50 states, and the 13 stripes signify the 13 British colonies that declared independence from Britain. What about the rest of it? What do the colors, stars, and stripes mean? According to the 1989 book Our Flag, the white portions of the flag represent purity and virtuousness, the red connotes strength and bravery, and blue symbolizes justice and diligence. Furthermore, according to another book published by the House of Representatives, "The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun."
Betsy RossMost of us were undoubtedly taught that Betsy Ross sewed, or at least helped devise, the first American flag in 1776. However, no proof of this has been found, either in George Washington's diaries, the records of the Continental Congress, or through the existence of any bills of sale. Historians are at odds as to whether the original U.S. flag was created by Betsy Ross or Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey Congressman who also signed the Declaration of Independence. Hopkinson is also credited with designing the first U.S. coin.
The Flag Didn't Always Have 13 StripesWhen the 14th and 15th states, respectively Vermont and Kentucky, were added to the union, the flag design was modified to include 15 stars and 15 stripes. It was quickly noted that adding both a star and a stripe for every state would crowd the flag before too long. As such, it was decided to keep only 13 stripes to represent the original 13 colonies, but continue adding a star for each new state. The flag that sparked the song "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812 contains 15 stars and 15 stripes, and it resides on display at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
NicknamesThe true, correct name for the U.S. flag is "The Flag of the United States of America." That's a bit of a mouthful, and so many nicknames exist. There are five primary, common monikers:
- The American Flag
- The Stars and Stripes
- Old Glory
- The Red, White, and Blue
- The Star Spangled Banner