With the Fourth of July right around the corner, many of you will be waving the American flag at parades, or staking them out in your yards as part of the celebration. Now is a good moment to learn some basic history and facts behind it, if you don’t already know. The Continental Congress passed the act to establish an official flag for the new nation back on June 14, 1777.
The Flag resolution of 1777 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.”
And although some believe the flag was designed by New Jersey Congressman Francis Hopkinson and then put together by the Philadelphia seamstress, Betsy Ross, the truth is that nobody really knows the true origin of the first American flag.
The design of the flag had actually changed quite a bit between the years 1777 and 1960. But as of today, the flag, as we know it, consists of thirteen horizontal stripes (seven red and six white) which are meant to represent the original 13 Colonies. The stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag have a symbolism as well – the red color stands for hardiness and valor, the white signifies purity and innocence, and the blue means vigilance, perseverance and justice. (so this Fourth of July, when you’re making those special holiday deserts, be sure to include all of the colors – red, white, and blue).
While you might only put your flag on display outside of your house over the holiday, there are a few locations throughout the United States that require, by presidential proclamation or law, to fly the flag on a 24 hour 7 days a week basis. Those locations are: Fort McHenry – Baltimore MD, Flag House Square – Baltimore MD, United States Marine Corps Memorial – Arlington VA, On the Green of the Town of Lexington MA, the White House – Washington, D.C., the United States customs ports of entry, and the Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park – Valley Forge PA.
The National Anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner”, written by the poet Francis Scott Key was inspired the American flag flying over Fort McHenry in Baltimore after a long and sustained shelling bombardment by the British. This flag had been stored at the National Museum of American History until 1998, but since then has been removed to a special chamber with low-oxygen and filtered light in a serious effort to preserve the integrity of the fibers.
Also fun to know is that the first American flag was placed at the North Pole in 1909 by Robert Peary. A gentleman by the name of Barry Bishop was the first to place the American flag at the summit of Mount Everest in 1963. Of course, the American flag was planted on the moon by Neil Armstrong in 1969 during the Apollo mission. And the first place the flag was flown overseas was on the shores of Tripoli in 1805.
Rules for displaying the flag
- The flag is usually put up quickly at sunrise and brought down at sunset in a ceremonious way – the flag should not be flown in bad weather.
- The flag should be on daily display at the main administration buildings of all public institutions and at polling stations during election days. It should also be on display at schools during the school week.
- The field of stars should be in the top left corner.
- When a ceremony or parade takes place, during the raising and lowering of the flag, everyone should stand facing the flag and place their right hand over their heart – except for people in uniform.
- The flag should never be dipped towards a person or object, and it should never touch anything underneath it.
Earl P. Williams, Jr.
According to the Wikipedia article on Francis Hopkinson, he designed two Stars and Stripes flags: (1) one for the United States with 7 white stripes and 6 red stripes and (2) one for the U.S. Navy with the reverse — 7 red stripes and 6 white stripes for better visibility at sea. Ironically, Hopkinson’s naval flag became the preferred National flag. According to the Wikipedia article on Betsy Ross, she sewed blue ensigns (naval flags) and narrow, red ship’s pennants for Pennsylvania’s navy during the American Revolution. After the War, she and her family business made U.S. flags for 50 years. Mrs. Ross’ contribution to the U.S. flag was the five-pointed star, which she cut with one snip to save time and material. Other flag makers used two pieces of cloth for each star. Two crossed triangles made a six-pointed star, and two crossed squares made an eight-pointed star. Earl P. Williams, Jr., U.S. flag historian (paleovexillologist)