The American flag’s history is directly tied with the creation of the Continental Army. The Revolutionary War had just begun, and the Continental Congress noticed the colonies were fighting independently, each under their own flags, instead of as a united force. To create a more unified front against the British, they created the Continental Army and what we know as the first American flag.
On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act establishing an official flag for the colonies. The resolution stated: “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.”
However, Flag Day was not officially celebrated until 100 years later, on the anniversary of the flag’s adoption. And in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson designated Flag Day as an official national day of observance.
Although Flag Day is not an official federal holiday, its observance is declared each year by the president of the United States and serves as a reminder of the symbolic meaning of our stars and stripes: red represents hardiness and valor, white represents purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
A Design for the Ages
Although we don’t know who made the very first American flag, we do know that it was designed to represent the 13 original colonies. Then, in 1818, Congress decided to keep the original 13 stripes while adding a new star to represent each new state as it entered the union.
The design of the current flag, with its 50 stars, was created in the 1950s by Ohio high school student Robert Heft. To complete his history project, he took apart the family flag with 48 stars and created 50 stars in the proportional pattern you see today, in anticipation of the upcoming statehood for Alaska and Hawaii. He later sent his flag to his congressman, who presented it to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. On July 4, 1960, the new 50-star flag was flown for the first time.
Showing Respect for the Flag
When you fly the flag on Flag Day, or on any other day, be sure to carefully follow flag etiquette. Here are a few important tips:
- Display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open. It can be displayed 24 hours a day only if it is properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
- Place the U.S. flag above all other flags, including city, state, local bodies of government or a group’s flag. When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they should be equivalent size and flown from separate staffs, both at the same height.
- On special days, the flag can be flown at half-staff, one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff. On Memorial Day, it is flown at half-staff until noon and then raised.
- When used during a marching ceremony or parade with other flags, the U.S. flag will be to the observer’s left.
- When flags are taken down from their poles, they should never touch the ground.
- Fold the flag in the traditional triangle for stowage. Never wad the flag.
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