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Everything You Need to Know about the Flag of the USA
The U.S. Flag has centuries of glorious history and beautiful design depicting in-depth significance. Since 1777, the flag of the USA was changed 26 times to finally adopt the current flag officially on 4 July 1960.
The current design of the flag was chosen as the national flag and ensign by an order on 4 July 1959 by Dwight D. Eisenhower, the then-president.
Design and Specifications of the U.S. Flag
Having a proportion of 10:19, the flag of the United States of America has 13 horizontal stripes of 7 red (top and bottom) and 6 white alternating strips of equal length and width.
The flag also contains a rectangular canton on the hoist side having 50 white five-pointed stars on a blue field. The stars on the blue canton are aligned in 9 horizontal rows. The top and bottom rows have 6 stars and each row of 6 stars is alternately followed by a row of 5 stars. Hence, the canton has 5 rows of 6 stars and 4 rows of 5 stars arranged in alternate horizontal lines.
According to the executive order issued by the president of the U.S.A., the specifications of the flag used by the federal government are as follows:
The ratio of height and width of the US Flag: 1.0:1.9
Height of the blue field canton: 7/13th of the length of the flag (the length of the canton covers 7 of the 13 horizontal stripes)
Width of the blue field canton: 2/5th of the width of the flag
Width of the Horizontal Stripes: 1/13th of the length of the flag
Diameter of the Stars: 4/5th of the length of the stripe
The specifications of the exact colors to be used on the American Flag as mentioned in the 10th edition of the Standard Color Card of America in 1981 are ‘Old Glory Red’, ‘Old Glory Blue’, and ‘White’.
Golden Fringe Decoration
There is a provision to decorate the US flag with golden fringe surrounding the flag’s perimeter without defacing the flag properly during displays on ceremonial occasions. The Army and Air Force of the US commonly use the fringed flag while the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps still use the fringeless flag.
The symbolism of the U.S. Flag Colors and Stars
The flag of the USA has a wider significance representing the history of the freedom movement and the union of the states as a single nation. The thirteen red and white stripes represent the British colonies forming independent and earliest US states after acquiring freedom from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
The fifty 5-pointed stars on the blue canton represent the fifty federal states of the country hence representing the union of states.
In the USA, the flag is the most widely recognized symbol of Americanism ideology frequently displayed on public and private buildings, outside retail outlets, etc. Apart from the official use, the American Flag is also displayed largely as motifs on vehicle windows, badges, apparel, jewelry, lapel pins, etc.
Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, originally gave an interpretation (drawn from heraldry) of the use of the tricolor Red, White, and Blue on the U.S. Seal. Later these representations were also related to the same colors on the national flag and ensign. According to Thompson, the red hues on the flag represents valor and hardiness, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and the blue field denotes justice, vigilance, and perseverance.
With the passing of time, several other interpretations have been associated with the use of tricolor on the flag. The most prominent and widely recognized among them are the ones stated by President Ronald Reagan. According to his modern interpretation, all colors used on the U.S. flag symbolize the different qualities of the human spirit in the people of America. Red represents courage, sacrifice, and readiness, white signifies high ideals and pure intentions while blue epitomizes justice and vigilance.
History of the U.S. Flag
Early Revolutionary War Flags
Rebellious Stripes Flag 1767
The earliest flags in use in the United States date back to 1767 when the Sons of Liberty adopted the red and white striped flag popularly known as the Rebellious Stripes Flag. The flag design comprised five red (red stripes on each vertical end) and four white vertical stripes. The flag is significant in history as the first symbol of the freedom movement in Thirteen American Colonies protesting against the taxation policies of the British Government and protection of the rights of the European Colonists in the US.
Forster Flag 1775
The Forster Flag of 1775 is one of the earliest revolutionary war flags representing the thirteen American Colonies. The red background flag had six small horizontal stripes on the hoist side. It hit the headlines in 2014 when a rare piece from the collection at Flag Heritage Foundation was auctioned in New York.
Bedford Flag 1775
This historical flag of 1775, related to the Battle of Lexington and Concord, is considered the oldest flag in the United States. The evidence are based on documents revealing its existence during the 1660s when it was used by the cavalry unit of Massachusetts.
During the 18th Century, this flag symbolized the early American Revolution.
First National Flag- Grand Union Flag 1775
The Grand Union Flag is also known by other names including the Continental Colors, Cambridge Flag, and Congress Flag. Apart from being regarded as the first national flag of the country, it is also significant for being the first Navy Ensign of the United States.
The design of the Grand Union flag is similar to the present U.S. Flag having 13 red and white horizontal stripes except for the design of the blue fielded starred canton. The canton on this flag had embedded the flag of the Kingdom of Great Britain (the symbol of constitutional monarchy in the UK from 1707-1801 before the union with the Kingdom of Ireland with Great Britain).
Before the flag resolution of 1777, the flag of the East India Company was also flown in many parts of the country having 9-15 stripes similar to the design of the Grand Union Flag.
Flag Resolution of 1777
The Flag Resolution was passed by the Second Continental Congress on 14 June 1777 to resolve the urge for a new national flag representing the 13 independent American colonies that formed the earliest US states namely Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia.
Francis Hopkinson’s 13-Star Variant
The new flag adopted the 13 horizontal red and white stripes with a new canton design containing 13 six-pointed white stars in vertical alternating rows of 3 (on the first and last rows) and 2 stars on the blue field. The design of the first official U.S. Flag was developed by Francis Hopkinson.
Since there was no specification about the arrangement and design of stars on the canton field, several sellers came up with various arrangements of 13-starred flags.
Betsy Ross Variant
In around the 1790s, the Betsy Ross’ 13 five-pointed stars arranged in a circle on the blue canton became highly popular and largely used in official ceremonies including the nation’s birthday.
Later Flag Acts
The present-day flag is the 27th flag design in the United States. Earlier the design has been modified 27 times since the official adoption of the national flag in 1777. The changes were introduced with the gradual formation and inclusion of the new states within the territory of the U.S.A.
Herein is a short synopsis of the following Flag Acts and changes in design with the inclusion of new states.
- Flag Act of 1 May 1795: Introduction of the new states of Kentucky and Vermont- the number of stars and stripes was increased to 15 (also known as the Star Spangled Banner)
- Flag Act of 4 July 1818: the number of stars was increased to 20 on the blue canton with 13 red and white stripes after the inclusion of 5 new states- Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee
- Flag Act of 4 July 1819: Illinois- 21
- Flag Act of 4 July 1820: Alabama and Maine-23 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1822: Missouri- 24 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1836: Arkansas- 25 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1837: Michigan- 26 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1845: Florida- 27 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1846: Texas- 28 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1847: Iowa- 29 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1848: Wisconsin- 30 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1851: California- 31 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1858: Minnesota- 32 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1859: Oregon- 33 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1861: Kansas- 34 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1863: West Virginia- 35 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1865: Nevada- 36 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1867: Nebraska- 37 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1877: Colorado- 38 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1890: Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington- 43 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1891: Wyoming- 44 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1896: Utah- 45 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1908: Oklahoma- 46 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1912: Arizona, New Mexico- 48 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1959: Alaska- 49 stars
- Flag Act of 4 July 1960: Hawaii- 50 stars
The 50-starred flag is the longest-running flag in use in the history of flags in the U.S. until in used as the official flag.
Interesting Facts about the U.S. Flag
Names of the U.S. Flag
The U.S. flag is known by several nicknames including Old Glory, Stars and Stripes, and Star Spangled Banner.
The national flag of the United States is also called the American flag, the flag of the United States of America, and the U.S. Flag.
Flag Day in the United States
14 June is observed as Flag Day in the United States commemorating the adoption of the national flag on this day in 1777.
Flag Code and Etiquette in the United States
There are specific guidelines pertaining to the flag’s use, display, and disposal according to the U.S. flag code.
According to Section 8 (‘Respect for Flag’), the flag design should not be a part of bedding, drapery, apparel, athletic uniforms, costumes, etc.
- Nobody can dip the flag to any person or object except for an ensign dipped as a response to a salutation from a foreign national ship
- When flown during the night, the flag should be illuminated
- They is not allowed to touch the ground especially during lowering in ceremonial events
- Mutilated national flags should be replaced or repaired before use
- If the flag is torn or has become too old for use, it is a custom to destroy the flag in a noble manner usually by burning
- Using the national flag for advertising purposes is strictly prohibited
- Use of the flag design in printed or embroidery on disposable items such as napkins, cushions, handkerchiefs, or packaging is also prohibited by the flag code
How to Fold the U.S. Flag for Storage
When not in use, it is the military custom in the U.S. to fold the flag in a triangle shape in proper order for storage. The right order of folding the U.S. flag as practiced during the flag folding ceremony of the Air Force is as follows:
- Fold the flag in equal halves along the height of the flag
- Again, fold the lower end of the half-folded flag into another half so that the canton part is visible
- Start folding the flag into small triangles from the fly side (striped end) towards the blue canton ensuring only the blue part is visible in folded condition
U.S. Flag at the Funerals
The national flag of USA is an eminent part of the military funeral processions. It is often used during the funeral of some civil servants including US Presidents, firefighters, law enforcement officials, etc.
As a customary practice, the official flag is draped around the casket of the deceased person. Before lowering the casket at the burial ground, the flag is folded in proper order for presenting it to the next kin of the deceased person as a token of respect.
Desecration of Flags in the U.S.A
In the USA, the desecration of the national flag is still observed as a conduct of free speech. The free nation widely recognizes the abuse of the national flag as an expression of protest and anguish.