Origin of Flag Day

Congressman Frances Hopkinson
British East India Company Flag 1707 to 1801
Flag Day Poster, 1917

“Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” Second Continental Congress, June 14, 1777.

The 32 words above are all there is in describing the first official flag of the United States. You will notice that the colors were described without meaning and the stars were not arranged in any particular order.

The national flag of the United States has been celebrated in song, used in patriotic displays, was always the main feature during July 4th celebrations, in parades, in political campaigns, and especially in the National Anthem. But there was never an official holiday that recognized it. The first attempt was in 1861.

George Morris of Hartford, Conn., is popularly given the credit of suggesting “Flag Day” in 1861. But, as a holiday or observance, it wasn’t widely accepted or observed.

In 1885, Bernard Cigrand, a grade school teacher in Waubeka, Wisconsin held the first recognized formal observance of Flag Day at Stony Hill School. From that time on, Mr. Cigrand was involved as an advocate for the establishment of a national Flag Day as the president of the American Flag Day Association and later of the National Flag Day Society and is considered “The Father of Flag Day” for his tireless dedication to the promotion of a separate holiday for the national flag. Visit the history of Flag Day at Wikipedia and see how others have helped shape the history of Flag Day as well.

Finally, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson recognized June 14th as Flag Day in a proclamation. An Act of Congress established a National Flag Day in 1949.

Officially, there have been 28 versions of the U.S. national flag since its official adoption in 1777. But, who designed the first flag? Well, the oft-repeated story that Betsy Ross sewed the first flag from a sketch by George Washington has been found to be unsubstantiated. Ross was a seamstress, she did sew flags, but it just isn’t clear that she was involved in its original design.

It has been clearly proven that Congressman Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey was involved in the first design. As chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department, it was his responsibility to help create a naval ensign that would have to be raised aboard U.S. Navy vessels when visiting foreign ports.

But why red, white, and blue design?. Hard to say. The British East India Flag came closest to the first design, but it had limited use outside that of the United Colonies. George Washington had red stars and stripes in his official coat-of-arms, but he was only a general in the Army at the time of the adoption of the official design. More significant was the influence of the flag of the Sons of Liberty, the red and white stripe design used during the Revolution to inspire patriots to the cause of Liberty. Traditionally, the British ensign included a canton featuring the flag of Great Britain and it would have been easy to replace the canton with a design featuring stars and continue the use of the flag of the Sons of Liberty as well.

There is much to learn about the flag of the United States. For example, there is the story of the National Anthem by Francis Scott Key, the various Flag Acts of Congress, the great story behind the Pledge of Allegiance, a proposed Flag Desecration amendment to the Constitution, flag etiquette for the United States, how to identify when your U.S. flag was made, how to care for your old U.S. flag, and an entire section devoted to flags at auction or mentioned throughout the WorthPoint website in our Worthopedia.

On June 14th every year, take an oversized flag to school and have the kids raise it while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. Besides the president of the United States, our national flag is the only other symbol that unites all Americans. Fly it with pride. Fly it to remember those who gave their lives to defend it. Fly it as a member of the community we know as the United States of America. Salute!