Fun Flag Day Facts
The Fourth of July is the familiar celebration of America’s independence, but there is a lesser known holiday specifically celebrating the “birthday” of the American flag. Flag Day is observed on June 14 in honor of the Flag Resolution passed on that date in 1777. The idea for Flag Day was first introduced in 1885 by Wisconsin schoolteacher B.J. Cigrand. New York City kindergarten teacher George Balch gained support for the holiday in 1889 and helped influence the State Board of Education of New York to officially adopt the celebration. The late 1800s saw a continual movement in favor of Flag Day, spreading from New York to Pennsylvania. Inspired by three decades of local, school, and state celebrations, Flag Day was established by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916. President Truman signed an Act of Congress in 1949 designating June 14 as National Flag Day. It is time to kick off the summer patriotism a month earlier than usual with some fun facts about Old Glory.
There are no official meanings tied to the colors of the flag, but over time it has been generally agreed upon that red signifies hardiness and valor, blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice, while white denotes purity and innocence. Red has been informally linked to the remembrance of the courage and bloodshed of American war heroes. Some historians believe the red color was a nod to British heritage, but with intersections of white indicating independence and freedom from British rule. The blue has also been attributed to the color of the “chief” or president. Blue was the perfect background or “sky” for the “new constellation” of our emerging country as described in the Flag Act of 1777.
The first flag the revolutionists used was actually not yet an “American” flag. The Grand Union Flag had 13 alternating red and white stripes and the British Union Jack in the upper left hand corner. On New Year’s Day in 1776, the Continental Army was reorganized in accordance with a Congressional resolution, placing American forces under the leadership of George Washington. This flag, although never made official, was flown above General Washington’s base at Prospect Hill.
The first official US flag is known as the Betsy Ross Flag, although most historians now believe it to be more legend than fact that Mrs. Ross actually sewed the famous flag. It was most likely designed by Francis Hopkinson. This familiar flag is made up of 13 alternating red and white stripes and thirteen white stars arranged in a circle on a blue background in the upper left hand corner to represent the 13 original colonies (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island). The Flag Resolution of 1777 actually commemorates the Betsy Ross flag as the first official American flag.
The Star Spangled Banner Flag was designed much like the Betsy Ross Flag, only with 15 stars arranged in rows and 15 stripes to represent the original 13 states plus Kentucky and Vermont. In 1812 the flag was flown over Fort McHenry, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write his poem “The Star Spangled Banner”. This poem was later put to music to become our national anthem. The Star Spangled Banner Flag is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
Twenty five other versions of the US flag followed the Star Spangled Banner Flag. Each of these subsequent flags had only 13 stripes, but the stars kept increasing from 20 to 50 as more states were added to the Union.
Our current Fifty Star American Flag was designed by a seventeen year old Ohio high school student named Robert Heft. As part of a history assignment in 1958, he anticipated the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to our country. Heft is said to have toiled for 12 hours using his mother’s sewing machine and a hot iron to add a new blue canton, or upper left hand corner, to an heirloom family 48 star flag. The new canton had 50 stars on each side, totally 100 hand cut stars. His teacher said his project lacked originality and gave him a B minus. The teacher, however, agreed to raise Heft’s grade if he could convince Congress to accept the new design. Heft sat on stage with President Dwight D. Eisenhower as his Fifty Star American Flag was made official on July 4, 1960. The current flag has had the longest tenure of any of its predecessors. It is safe to say Robert Heft’s 11th grade history project has been an “A plus” for 50 years now in the heart of Americans.
by Lori Jordan-Rice, author of the “Miss Trimble’s Trapdoor” children’s history adventure book series