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10 Rejected American Flag Designs

10 Rejected American Flag Designs

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America’s national color palette has been set since 1818, when a law was passed requiring the American flag to sport 13 alternating red and white horizontal stripes—one for each of the original colonies—and a white star for each state on a blue field. Every time the United States admitted another state, a new star was added to the flag and a new pattern was needed.

Shortly after President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in 1953, his administration began to plan for the eventual admission of Alaska and Hawaii as the 49th and 50th states. One of the smaller details requiring attention was how adding two new white stars might alter the design of the existing United States flag. This challenge evidently captured the public’s imagination.

During the 1950s, more than 3,000 Americans mailed unsolicited designs for a 50-state flag to the White House, Congress and federal agencies. The submissions ranged from crayon sketches by schoolchildren to hand-sewn mock-ups. While they were certainly creative, many of these proposed flags did not follow the rules set by the 1818 law. A commission of military and civilian personnel appointed by Eisenhower reviewed the crowdsourced proposals along with government-developed ideas to find the winning candidate: a flag with five rows of six stars staggered with four rows of five stars.

The current American flag, which is the longest-tenured banner in American history, was officially raised for the first time on the Fourth of July in 1960 at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the “Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812. While the 50-star flag looks very similar to its predecessors, had any of these 10 proposals in the archives of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum been selected, Old Glory would have looked far different.


This submission would have not only radically altered the flag, it would have run afoul of the law by sporting two extra white stripes and blue stars on a white background. The design featured four stars in the corners representing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms as well as a piece of poetry along the top and bottom: “From the state that is large, to the one that is small/All fifty offer peace and goodwill to one and to all.” Two stars in the middle represent the largest and smallest states in the country.


While the flag was required to have white stars on a blue field, there were no stipulations that the stars should be arranged in rows or in any particular pattern. Some early military flags featured the individual stars in a larger star pattern or encompassing a bald eagle. This proposed design incorporated both those ideas.


More branding logo than flag proposal, this submission by Gertrude Brofman was designed by her brother. It featured the letters “USA” inside a star, and whichever way the design is turned it always reads “USA.”


Philip C. Brown of Fallbrook, California, submitted these six different patterns for the 50 white stars that included rows and circles. The Veterans of Foreign Wars endorsed a circle of stars, which represented unbroken unity, ringing a large star, which stood for “the polar star of Divine Guidance in the affairs of our nation.”


This colored drawing from Estell Arthur Owens arranged the flag’s stars to spell out 1776, which was not only the year of the Declaration of Independence but the year in which Betsy Ross supposedly sewed the first “stars and stripes” version of the American flag at the request of Continental Army General George Washington.


This version of the American flag would have appealed to geography junkies with 48 stars located inside a map of the continental United States in the approximate locations of each state capital. Since Alaska and Hawaii were not depicted, two stars representing Juneau and Honolulu were placed atop the map.


This painted submission depicts the white stars spelling out the country’s initials: “USA.”


Although drawn with inverse colors for better visibility, this proposal from 17-year-old Julie Herting of Teaneck, New Jersey, featured a ring of white stars on a blue field surrounding a hand holding a white torch and red flame aloft.


This straightforward design places eight stars in six rows with the two remaining stars flanking the official motto of the United States: “In God We Trust.”


This submission features the 50 white stars arranged in three concentric circles.

10 Rejected American Flag Designs - HISTORY

Wikimedia Commons The story of Betsy Ross accepting George Washington’s request for a flag is dubious to say the least.

The United States was just a few weeks shy of celebrating its one-year anniversary when the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution establishing an official flag for the nation. While the flag’s actual creation is often linked to Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross, this claim is starkly unfounded.

While June 14 has been celebrated as Flag Day for decades, the history behind its titular object remains contested and disputed. The American flag we use today is not only the 27th version of this national banner, but it is also unlikely to have resulted from Betsy Ross’ work.

Though most are aware of an early American flag with a circle of stars in the canton, the history of gradual design changes remains largely unexplored. Not only was the first design likely inspired by the British East India Company, but the stripes and stars have never meant what you may think.

So who made the American flag? The Betsy Ross story grows more doubtful each year. So a reexamination of the facts is long overdue.


The current design of the U.S. flag is its 27th the design of the flag has been modified officially 26 times since 1777. The 48-star flag was in effect for 47 years until the 49-star version became official on July 4, 1959. The 50-star flag was ordered by then president Eisenhower on August 21, 1959, and was adopted in July 1960. It is the longest-used version of the U.S. flag and has been in use for over 60 years. [6]

First flag

The Continental Colors
(aka the "Grand Union Flag")

Flag of the British East India Company, 1707–1801

At the time of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, the Continental Congress would not legally adopt flags with "stars, white in a blue field" for another year. The flag contemporaneously known as "the Continental Colors" has historically been referred to as the first national flag. [7]

The Continental Navy raised the Colors as the ensign of the fledgling nation in the American War for Independence—likely with the expedient of transforming their previous British red ensigns by adding white stripes—and used this flag until 1777, when it formed the basis for the subsequent designs. [7] [8]

The name "Grand Union" was first applied to the Continental Colors by George Preble in his 1872 history of the U.S. flag. [8]

The flag closely resembles the British East India Company flag of the era, and Sir Charles Fawcett argued in 1937 that the company flag inspired the design. [9] Both flags could have been easily constructed by adding white stripes to a British Red Ensign, one of the three maritime flags used throughout the British Empire at the time. However, an East India Company flag could have from nine to 13 stripes and was not allowed to be flown outside the Indian Ocean. [10] Benjamin Franklin once gave a speech endorsing the adoption of the company's flag by the United States as their national flag. He said to George Washington, "While the field of your flag must be new in the details of its design, it need not be entirely new in its elements. There is already in use a flag, I refer to the flag of the East India Company." [11] This was a way of symbolizing American loyalty to the Crown as well as the United States' aspirations to be self-governing, as was the East India Company. Some colonists also felt that the company could be a powerful ally in the American War of Independence, as they shared similar aims and grievances against the British government tax policies. Colonists, therefore, flew the company's flag, to endorse the company. [12]

However, the theory that the Grand Union Flag was a direct descendant of the flag of the East India Company has been criticized as lacking written evidence. [13] On the other hand, the resemblance is obvious, and a number of the Founding Fathers of the United States were aware of the East India Company's activities and of their free administration of India under Company rule. [13] In any case, both the stripes (barry) and the stars (mullets) have precedents in classical heraldry. Mullets were comparatively rare in early modern heraldry, but an example of mullets representing territorial divisions predating the U.S. flag are those in the coat of arms of Valais of 1618, where seven mullets stood for seven districts.

Another widely repeated theory is that the design was inspired by the coat of arms of George Washington's family, which includes three red stars over two horizontal red bars on a white field. [14] Despite the similar visual elements, there is "little evidence" [15] or "no evidence whatsoever" [16] to support the claimed connection with the flag design. The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington, published by the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, calls it an "enduring myth" backed by "no discernible evidence." [17] The story seems to have originated with the 1876 play Washington: A Drama in Five Acts, by the English poet Martin Farquhar Tupper, and was further popularized through repetition in the children's magazine St. Nicholas. [15] [16]

Flag Resolution of 1777

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which 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." [18] Flag Day is now observed on June 14 of each year. While scholars still argue about this, tradition holds that the new flag was first hoisted in June 1777 by the Continental Army at the Middlebrook encampment. [19]

The first official U.S. flag flown during battle was on August 3, 1777, at Fort Schuyler (Fort Stanwix) during the Siege of Fort Stanwix. Massachusetts reinforcements brought news of the adoption by Congress of the official flag to Fort Schuyler. Soldiers cut up their shirts to make the white stripes scarlet material to form the red was secured from red flannel petticoats of officers' wives, while material for the blue union was secured from Capt. Abraham Swartwout's blue cloth coat. A voucher is extant that Capt. Swartwout of Dutchess County was paid by Congress for his coat for the flag. [20]

The 1777 resolution was most probably meant to define a naval ensign. In the late 18th century, the notion of a national flag did not yet exist, or was only nascent. The flag resolution appears between other resolutions from the Marine Committee. On May 10, 1779, Secretary of the Board of War Richard Peters expressed concern "it is not yet settled what is the Standard of the United States." [21] However, the term "Standard" referred to a national standard for the Army of the United States. Each regiment was to carry the national standard in addition to its regimental standard. The national standard was not a reference to the national or naval flag. [22]

The Flag Resolution did not specify any particular arrangement, number of points, nor orientation for the stars and the arrangement or whether the flag had to have seven red stripes and six white ones or vice versa. [23] The appearance was up to the maker of the flag. Some flag makers arranged the stars into one big star, in a circle or in rows and some replaced a state's star with its initial. [24] One arrangement features 13 five-pointed stars arranged in a circle, with the stars arranged pointing outwards from the circle (as opposed to up), the so-called Betsy Ross flag. Experts have dated the earliest known example of this flag to be 1792 in a painting by John Trumbull. [25]

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10 Myths About the American Flag

by Aaron Kassraie, AARP, July 2, 2020 | Comments: 0

En español | The American flag has evolved over time along with the nation. The first official red, white and blue flag bearing 13 stars and 13 stripes debuted in 1777. Today's familiar 50-star flag dates back to 1960, the year after Alaska and Hawaii became states. Legends and misconceptions about the flag have also evolved over time. Here's a closer look at 10 myths about the American flag and the truth behind each of them.

Myth #1: Betsy Ross created the first American flag

The familiar story of George Washington walking into a shop and asking Betsy Ross to sew a flag originated with William Canby, a grandson of Ross, said Peter Ansoff, president of the North American Vexillological Association, a group devoted to the study of flags. Canby presented his tale with little supporting evidence to the Pennsylvania Historical Society in 1870, nearly a century after the original flag was created. He claimed Ross told him the story right before her death in 1836, when he would have been around 11 years old.

"Obviously, he was still a youngster at the time, and he was writing this much later than that,” Ansoff said. “There are many discrepancies in the story — some things that just don't make sense."

Since Washington was out in the field commanding the army, for example, he didn't spend much time in Philadelphia, where Ross’ upholstery shop was located. Additionally, flags were first made not for ground troops but for naval forces, which Washington had little to do with, Ansoff said. The true creator of the first American flag is likely lost to history.

Myth #2: The flag has always had stars and stripes

America's earliest flags did not have stars and stripes. A flag used in 1775, for example, did have stripes, but it displayed the British Union Jack crosses in the canton, the top left corner of the flag that's also known as the union. The primary use of a national flag at that time was for naval ships to be able to recognize each other.

Congress didn't adopt the flag with 13 stars and 13 stripes as the official U.S. flag until 1777.

Myth #3: Americans have always flown the flag

Prior to the Civil War, flags were really only flown in an official capacity on ships, forts and government buildings. “In the antebellum period, if a citizen had flown his flag on his house or carriage, people would have thought that was strange. Why is he doing that? He's not the government,” Ansoff said.

The outbreak of war in 1861 quickly changed Americans’ attitudes about displaying the flag.

"At the beginning of the Civil War there was an outburst of patriotism,” Ansoff said, “and very soon, you saw people flying flags everywhere to show their support for the Union cause."

Myth #4: Red, white and blue have official meanings

The colors of the flag were not assigned any official meaning when the first flag was adopted in 1777. The traditional meanings assigned to the colors may have arisen five years later, in 1782, when Charles Thompson, the secretary of the Continental Congress, waxed poetic about the colors in the Great Seal of the United States, which he helped design. Thompson described the red in the seal as representing hardiness and valor the white, purity and innocence and the blue, vigilance, perseverance and justice.

As for the origin of the red-white-and-blue color scheme, it's likely no coincidence that the British flag bore the same three colors.


Historical progression of designs Edit

Since 1818, a star for each new state has been added to the flag on the Fourth of July immediately following each state's admission. In years in which multiple states have been admitted, the number of stars on the flag has jumped correspondingly. The greatest example so far was in 1890, when five states were admitted within the span of a single year (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington in November 1889 and Idaho on 3 July 1890). This change has typically been the only change made with each revision of the flag since 1777, with the exception of changes in 1795 and 1818, which increased the number of stripes to 15 and then returned it to 13, respectively. [ citation needed ]

As the exact pattern of stars was not specified prior to 1912, and the exact colors not specified prior to 1934, many of the historical U.S. national flags (shown below) have had varied designs. [ citation needed ]

1795–1818 (the "Star-Spangled Banner", 15 stars, 15 stripes)

Other historical versions Edit

Betsy Ross circular 13-star version (1792)

“Hopkinson” version (1777-1795)

Possible future designs Edit

With the addition of states, the U.S. flag increases the number of stars. Examples of possible designs for U.S. flags with up to five additional states are displayed here.

Flag design displaying 51 stars (proposed by New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico)


The Georgia Code of 1861 required that militia regiments and battalions detailed for service outside of Georgia be provided with regimental colors "bearing the arms of the State." Regimental colors were to be inscribed with name of the unit. [5] The color of the flag itself was not specified. [6] A surviving state flag in the collection of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, however, places the arms on a red field. [7]

First flag (1879–1956) Edit

The 1879 flag was introduced by Georgia state senator Herman H. Perry and was adopted to memorialize Confederate soldiers during the American Civil War. [6] Perry was a former colonel in the Confederate army during the war, and he presumably based the design on the First National Flag of the Confederacy, commonly known as the Stars and Bars. [6] Over the years the flag was changed by adding and altering a charge on the vertical blue band at the hoist. The original 1879 design featured a solid blue band with no additional emblems.

A 1902 amendment to the state militia laws added the state's coat of arms to the blue band, though a 2000 research report by the Georgia Senate states that researchers were not aware of any surviving flags depicting the coat of arms directly on the blue band, suggesting that no such flag was ever actually produced. [6] Instead, no later than 1904, the coat of arms began to be depicted on a white shield, possibly with a gold outline. [6] This version also added a red ribbon with the word "GEORGIA" below the shield. Examples of this modified version were discovered by the Senate researchers. [6]

Some flag manufacturers included the year 1799 in the coat of arms, as in the state seal the seal had been adopted in that year. In 1914, the General Assembly changed the year to 1776, the year the United States Declaration of Independence was signed. [6]

At some point, the coat of arms began to be replaced with the state seal. The Senate report indicates this happened sometime in the 1910s or 1920s, and may have been connected to the 1914 change in the state seal's date and the need to conform newly produced flags to that change. [6] The report notes that the first official state publication to use the seal instead of the coat of arms was the 1927 Georgia Official Register, which used a color version of the seal, adding that various versions of the seal were used on flags during this era, until a new drawing was prescribed in the 1950s. [6]

Second flag (1956–2001) Edit

In early 1955, chairman of the State Democratic Party and attorney for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia John Sammons Bell (who later served as a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals) suggested a new state flag for Georgia that would incorporate the Confederate Battle Flag. At the 1956 session of the General Assembly, state senators Jefferson Lee Davis and Willis Harden introduced Senate Bill 98 to change the state flag. Signed into law on February 13, 1956, the bill became effective the following July 1.

A copy of the new flag displayed at the 1956 signing ceremony shows slight differences from the state flag commonly produced (and shown here). In the 1956 version, the stars are larger, and only the center point of the central star points straight up. Also, the first copies of the 1956 flag used a different version of the state seal. (The 1920 Georgia State Seal was the state seal seen on these early examples. This is the seal seen on all later 1920 Design Georgia State Flags.) In the summer of 1954, a new redrawn state seal began to appear on state government documents. By the end of the decade, flag makers were using the new seal on Georgia's official state flags.

The 1956 flag was adopted in an era when the Georgia General Assembly "was entirely devoted to passing legislation that would preserve segregation and white supremacy", according to a 2000 research report by the Georgia Senate. There are few, if any, written records of what was said on the Georgia House and Senate floors when the 1956 flag bill was being introduced and passed by the Georgia legislature, nor does Georgia law provide for a statement of legislative intent when a bill is introduced, although former U.S. congressman James Mackay, one of the 32 House members who opposed the change, later stated, "There was only one reason for putting the flag on there: like the gun rack in the back of a pickup truck, it telegraphs a message." [6] Additionally, the 2000 report concluded that the "1956 General Assembly changed the state flag" during "an atmosphere of preserving segregation and resentment" to the U.S. government's rulings on integration. [6] The changed flag was seen as a "gesture of defiance in the face of the federal government's initial enforcement of Brown vs. Board of Education (1954)." [8]

The 2000 report states that the people who had supported the flag's change in the 1950s said, in recalling the event years later, that "the change was made in preparation for the Civil War centennial, which was five years away or that the change was made to commemorate and pay tribute to the Confederate veterans of the Civil War." [6] Bell, who designed the 1956 flag and supported its adoption during the 1950s as a defense of the state's "institutions", which at the time included segregation, claimed years later that he did so to honor Confederate soldiers. [6] The 2000 report states that the claims that the flag was ostensibly changed in 1956 to honor Confederate soldiers came much later after the flag's adoption, in an attempt by the change's supporters to backtrack from prior support of segregation in an era where it was no longer fashionable, saying that the "argument that the flag was changed in 1956 in preparation for the approaching Civil War centennial appears to be a retrospective or after-the-fact argument" and that "no one in 1956, including the flag’s sponsors, claimed that the change was in anticipation of the coming anniversary". [6]

At the time, opposition to changing the flag came from various sides, including from Confederate historical groups like the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). Opponents to a change of the flag stated that incorporating the Confederate battle flag into the design would be too sectionalist, counterproductive, and divisive, saying that people should show patriotism towards the United States rather than the defunct Confederacy, referring to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, which states that the U.S. is "one nation . indivisible". [6] Opponents of the flag's change also said that there was nothing wrong with the 1920 flag and that people were content with it. [6] Others opposed changing the flag out of the burden it would place on those who would have to purchase a new flag to replace the outdated one. [6]

The 2000 Georgia senate report and other critics have interpreted the adoption of the 1956 flag as a symbol of racist protest, citing legislation passed in 1956 which included bills rejecting Brown v. Board of Education and pro-segregationist comments by then-Governor Marvin Griffin, such as "The rest of the nation is looking to Georgia for the lead in segregation." [6] [9] [10] Although legislators openly supported segregation, no written record exists of what was said in Senate and House sessions concerning the reason for the flag change. [6]

Political pressure for a change in the official state flag increased during the 1990s, in particular during the run-up to the 1996 Olympic Games that were held in Atlanta. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) focused on the Georgia flag as a major issue and some business leaders in Georgia felt that the perceptions of the flag were causing economic harm to the state. In 1992, Governor Zell Miller announced his intention to get the Confederate element removed, but the state legislature refused to pass any flag-modifying legislation. The matter was dropped after the 1993 legislative session. [ citation needed ] Many Atlanta residents and some Georgia politicians refused to fly the 1956 flag and flew the pre-1956 flag instead. [ citation needed ]

Third flag (2001–2003) Edit

Miller's successor as governor, Roy Barnes, responded to the increasing calls for a new state flag, and in 2001 hurried a replacement through the Georgia General Assembly. His new flag, designed by architect Cecil Alexander, sought a compromise, by featuring small versions of some (but not all) of Georgia's former flags, including the controversial 1956 flag, under the words "Georgia's History." Those flags are a thirteen-star U.S. flag of the "Betsy Ross" design the first Georgia flag (before 1879) the 1920–1956 Georgia flag the previous state flag (1956–2001) and the current fifty-star U.S. flag.

In a 2001 survey on state and provincial flags in North America conducted by the North American Vexillological Association, the redesigned Georgia flag was ranked the worst by a wide margin. The group stated that the flag "violates all the principles of good flag design." [11] After the 1956 state flag was replaced in 2001, the Georgia city of Trenton adopted a modified version as its official city flag, to protest its discontinuation. [12]

There was widespread opposition to the new flag, deemed the "Barnes rag". [13] It led, according to Barnes himself, to his defeat for reelection two years later the flag was a major issue in the election. [14]

11 Most Badass Flags in History

Flags with armed animals, heads being chopped off and so much more.

I wanted to name this list 󈫻 Flags That are Most Badass In a Vacuum” but I thought that would be confusing. “How did the flag end up in this vacuum?”, one might say. Can’t have that. We’re doing vexillology, not just straight vexing.

What I mean is — these are all flags that are badass in what they literally depict, not what they symbolically represent. So just because the flag represents a badass, dominating, whirling dervish of a country or branch of the military or whatever doesn’t mean they made this list. But if your flag features a bear eating a snake eating a Howitzer, you’re gonna make this list.

Here are 11 of the most badass flags in history.

1 | Benin Empire

The Benin Empire was a small African state from 1440 to 1897. (It’s now part of Nigeria — not the country of Benin. Although if Benin’s flag did feature a man lopping off another man’s head they’d probably get more mainstream publicity.) I believe this is the only flag in history that ever featured a live-action decapitation. It’s pretty hard to find any flag that keeps it realer than that.

2 | Virginia

Virginia has the most aggressive American state flag. It’s not clear if the tyrannical Roman king was stabbed with the spear or the sort-of blunt sword. And also, it’s not clear why they went “SNES Mortal Kombat” and not “Genesis Mortal Kombat” and were scared to show blood. Also, TWIST, the person doing the stabbing is actually a woman modeled after Virtus, the Roman goddess of virtue and strength. Meaning she stabbed the king, managed to keep it bloodless, then just kinda let her breast pop out in celebration, Brandi Chastain style.

3 | Mozambique

Sure, it’s the only country in world history that’s included an AK-47 on its flag. And yes, a simple AK-47 wasn’t good enough, they opted for AK-47 with a bayonet attached. But what’s really hardcore was their decision to also put a book on the flag. Because knowledge is power. And knowledge backed up by an assault rifle (and, to a lesser extent, the occasional hoe) is real power.

4 | Sri Lanka

This isn’t just a lion carrying a sword (meaning one of the world’s top three deadliest animals holding one of the world’s top 27 deadliest weapons). But it’s holding that sword to defend the symbolic but totally brazen color choices they made for this flag, matching be damned. This sword-wielding lion cares not for hue nor saturation.

5 | Republic of Formosa

The Republic of Formosa lasted for approximately five months in 1895 on Taiwan before it was invaded by the Japanese. But in that five months they had time to make a flag starring a flying tiger that can shoot fire from its tail. That seems like it would’ve been the type of kaiju character that should’ve instilled irreconcilable fear into the hearts of the Japanese. The Republic of Formosa just went like 20 percent too cute with it.

6 | Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, Ukraine

Dnipropetrivsk Oblast is a province in central Ukraine and, apparently, their mascot is a guy who hits the Slavik manliness superfecta: Massive gun, spare sword, hot pink full-body robe, and aspirationally thick mustache.

7 | Jolly Roger

I chose this version of the classic pirate flag because when the skull is smiling I find it even more intimidating than when the skull is mean mugging. Because here, it’s like the pirates are happy to board your ship and drink your rum and steal your treasure and scuff up your deck with their peglegs and parrot feces. And maybe kill you, although that part is maybe less romanticized.

8 | The Australian flag (as edited by The Simpsons)

The regular Australian flag has history. But the Australian flag edited to pay homage to the country’s long-standing tradition of booting people in the buttocks (which I assume is a real thing)? That’s so aggressive it makes Aussie Rules Football look like a pillow fight. And a pillow fight for the purposes of being sexy, not where the participants are trying to win.

9 | American Samoa

Sure, the American flag is iconic. But it’s nice that we’ve got a territory that was willing to do what Betsy Ross (or the flag-making committee she represents courtesy of folklore) didn’t do. American Samoa turned our eagle into a armed and dangerous defender of the truth. (This is especially important if you’ve ever heard what an eagle actually sounds like.)

10 | Moscow, Russia

11 | Tamil Eelam

Tamil Eelam is a proposed country that would spliter off the north part of Sri Lanka. Their flag would be perfect if they ever have a militaristic spinoff of Saved by the Bell.

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About Sam Greenspan

Sam is a Midwest-born classically-trained journalist, now living and working in Los Angeles as a writer, author and entrepreneur. So basically, just a whole steaming jambalaya of stereotypes.

The 50-Star American Flag was Designed by a High School Student

American students are taught that the first flag was made by Betsy Ross, but how did that come about? And how did we get to the flag we use today, so much time and so many states later?

In 1777, the Continental Congress passed a resolution about how the flag of the new United States should look: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

A “Betsy Ross” flag flying outside San Francisco City Hall, in San Francisco, California.

Precisely who designed the first flag is not certain, but it’s usually attributed to a New Jersey Congressman, Francis Hopkinson, according to the organization usflag. Neither is it certain who sewed it, but it probably wasn’t Betsy Ross.

According to the Washington Post, there is absolutely no documentary historical evidence (letters, bills of sale, news articles, etc.) that she had anything to do with either its design or creation.

Betsy Ross 1777, a 1920 depiction by artist Jean Leon Gerome Ferris of Ross showing Gen. George Washington (seated left), Robert Morris and George Ross how she cut the revised five-pointed stars for the flag.

That story began to crop up almost 100 years after the fact, when Ross’s grandson, William Canby, told it to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, saying she did it at President Washington’s request.

The only evidence he provided were affidavits from family members. Ross did, in fact, make flags in the late 1770s, but it’s very unlikely that she made the first one.

This 1779 portrait of George Washington by painter Charles Willson Peale features a flag with 13 stars arranged in a circle.

The US Flag website states that before June 24, 1912, certain specifics of the flag, such as its proportions and the arrangement of stars (whether in a circle or straight lines), wasn’t clearly prescribed.

This occasionally made for flags with proportions that would seem weird to modern eyes, but in general, most flags made before 1912 still had the recognizable straight rows of stars, and the same overall proportions we’re used to seeing.

A child watches as a woman sews a star on a United States flag.

All told, after that first resolution there were five acts that related to how the flag should look. January 13, 1794 was the first, and it said that the flag should show 15 stripes and 15 stars, starting in May of the following year.

The next act, signed by President James Monroe, was passed on April 4, 1818. It mandated 13 stripes and one star for each state, to be added on July 4th following that state’s addition to the union.

Oil painting depicting the 39 historical U.S. flags. Photo by Zimand CC BY SA 3.0

That was followed by President Taft’s Executive Order of June 24, 1912, which laid down the specifics for the flag’s proportions and detailed the arrangement of eights rows of six stars, each with one point facing upwards.

On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower signed an order rearranging the stars into seven rows of seven stars, and staggering them both horizontally and vertically.

Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States.

Finally, on August 21st of that same year, Eisenhower signed another order requiring the stars be in nine rows, staggered horizontally, and eleven columns staggered vertically. That last bit sounds complicated, but it’s the arrangement we use today.

The design of the current American flag actually began life as a high school class project, according to Reader’s Digest. High school student Bob Heft’s history teacher gave the class an assignment to bring in something they made.

Woman sewing a United States flag.

Heft, being very familiar with the Betsy Ross story, and knowing there were discussions of Alaska and Hawaii eventually being granted status as states, was inspired to make a 50-star flag.

Heft modified his parent’s 48-star flag, and brought it into class as his project. His teacher wasn’t too happy with Heft’s efforts, and gave the assignment a B-.

New York stock exchange, Wall Street, USA.

Heft challenged the mediocre grade, saying that the changes in design for each new flag were meant to keep the flag looking pretty much the same, while allowing a star for each new state, and he felt his design accomplished that.

His history teacher told him that if he didn’t like the grade, he should get his flag accepted in Washington. If he did that, the teacher would change the grade.

Heft decided to accept the challenge and spent two years writing letters, making calls, and reaching out to his state representative, Walter Moeller, who also advocated for him. Alaska was granted statehood, and briefly there was a flag with 49 stars. But soon afterward Hawaii also became a state, and Heft got the answer to fixing his history grade.

President Eisenhower told Heft that his design for the 50-star flag had been chosen out of 1000 designs. On July 4, 1960, Bob Heft got to go to Washington and see his design become the new flag. Heft’s flag is the longest running design for the United States flag in history.

Watch the video: 10 Rejected American Flag Designs (May 2022).