The Evolution of Old Glory: The 24 Star Flag of the United States

Tom Carrier, our resident vexillologist, has worked tirelessly on the history behind the creation of each version of the American flag as our country grew and states were added. We are thrilled to share his discoveries over the next few weeks. The design of the flag has been officially modified 26 times since 1777. This week we bring you the story behind the 21-Star Flag of the United States.  Enjoy!

A 24-Star period flag 1822-1836 (rareflags.com).

Overview 

It was the Missouri Compromise that brought Maine into the Union as the 23rd state in 1820.  Two years later, in 1822, Missouri Territory (originally part of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803) was admitted as Missouri, the 24th state in the Union.  The former a “free” state where slavery was declared illegal; the latter a continuation as a “slave” state, hence a compromise.

As per the Flag Act of 1818, a new star would be added to the flag of the United States at the next Independence Day following admission to the Union.  The star for Maine was added in 1821, now a star for Missouri would be added in 1822 to create a 24-star official flag of the United States. It would remain the official national flag until 1836.

A 24-star flag of this period, even over 14 years, is still hard to come by.  The reason? Unlike today, unless it was for government or naval use, regular folks made their own flag themselves, if they were inclined to.  And that would mean that any useable cloth remnants such as cotton, wool, linen, quilt material, muslin, even hemp would form the shape and color of the flag.  Everything would have to be cut, arranged, and stitched by hand.  No two flags were ever alike.

Still, there are a number of 24-star flags available today, however, most are from different periods of time well past 1836, the last year the flag was official.  For example, there is a 24-star cotton flag fashioned from a 48-star flag in 1974 and flown to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the visit of the Marquis de Lafayette to the United States in 1824.  Since flags of the early 19th century were made primarily of wool bunting (cotton flags weren’t as common), the manufacture would have stood out rather dramatically.  Other similar type commemorative flags may very well exist even if they are made from wool bunting. The Centennial of 1876 brought out a number of commemorative type wool flags.  A basic rule to follow: if the flag has metal grommets (more common after 1850 or so), it’s a commemorative.

Close up of 24-Star period flag.

What Experts Look For

Luckily, while rather rare, there are two excellent examples of the 24-star flag to compare.  Both are of similar wool bunting construction with cotton threads, but we’ll concentrate on the flag in the collection of Anthony Iossa.  The other is in the Zaricor Collection.

Date:  within the 1822-1836 period

Size:   57.5” (fly) length; 8.5” (hoist) width

Star Pattern:  24 five-pointed, appliqued stars arranged in four rows of 6 sewn with 3-ply cotton thread. Cotton stars were more in use by this time rather than the heavier linen. 

Example of worsted wool bunting 1816.

Stripes: 7 cotton red stripe, 6 white stripes usually of single ply worsted wool bunting

Fabric:  single-ply worsted wool bunting; wool bunting was most predominant during the early period of flag manufacture with Z-twist weave

Sewing Thread:  2-ply linen thread, except stars using 3-ply cotton thread

Stitching:  hand sewn throughout

Heading:   plain weave, coarse linen

Grommets:  none; a split cut at each end of the heading

Marks/Identification

 “C.A. Jones” inked on heading.


Tom Carrier is a General Worthologist with a specialty in Americana, political memorabilia and he has been the resident WorthPoint vexillologist (flags, seals and heraldry) since 2007. Tom is also a frequent contributor of articles to WorthPoint.

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