American Flag History

The American flag is a symbol of our nation representing unity and strength that is a source of our great pride and inspiration. The American Flag has evolved from many flags and is an icon in America’s history. Below are just a few of the highlights of its unique past.

The first flag to fly over the original 13 colonies was an English flag known as the Red Ensign. This flag flew from 1707 to the Revolutionary War which began in 1775. The Red Ensign was red with a union in the upper left corner that combined the red cross of St. George (patron Saint of England) and the diagonal white cross of St. Andrew (patron Saint of Scotland) on a blue field.

On January 1, 1776 a flag known as the Grand Union was raised over the headquarters of George Washington at Prospect Hill outside of Boston. The Grand Union flag added 6 white stripes to the red portion of the Red Ensign flag and maintained the same union. The white stripes now broke the flag into a total of 13 alternating red and white stripes. On that New Years Day the Loyalist (supporters of Britain) mistook the flying of this Grand Union flag over Prospect Hill as showing support for the King of England. This in fact was not the case and it was decided at that time that a new flag was needed for the colonies.

It is reported that in May of 1776 Betsy Ross sewed the first truly American flag. It was during a meeting with 3 members belonging to a secret committee of the Continental Congress, Robert Morris, George Ross and George Washington, that Betsy was asked to fashion the first flag. The three men presented Betsy with a rough draft of a flag that included a six-pointed star. At that time Betsy showed them how to cut a 5-pointed star with a single cut. So impressed by this, they entrusted Betsy with making the first flag. This flag consisted of 13 alternating red and white stripes with 13 white 5-pointed stars in a circle.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress officially adopted the flag sewn by Betsy Ross as the first American flag promoting national patriotism and unity. This flag represented the 13 original colonies made up of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina and Rhode Island.

In 1795 Vermont and Kentucky were added to the nation and our flag increased by 2 stars and 2 stripes making a total of 15 stripes and 15 stars. At that time there was no official directive when states were added to the nation on how to change our flag, so the flag kept growing.

In 1818 the flag changed again. Five more states had been added to the nation since 1795 and it was decided at this time the flag could not keep growing by adding additional stripes. The flag went back to the original 13 alternating red and white stripes, representing the original 13 colonies, and 5 more stars were added to the union of the flag. From this time forward the flag only changed by adding stars as states were added to the nation.

Between 1819 and 1912 an additional 28 states were added to the nation bringing our flag up to 48 stars. Between that time frame the flag had changed 22 times. It was June 24, 1912 when President Taft signed an Executive Order which established proportions of the flag and specified orientation and arrangement of the stars.

On June 22, 1942, President Roosevelt approved the Federal Flag Code which gives instructions on how to display and respect the flag. It does not outline any penalties for non-compliance, rather it simply serves as a guideline for voluntary compliance.

August 3, 1949 a bill is signed proclaiming Flag Day be observed on June 14th each year. This date marks the anniversary of when the first American flag was officially adopted.

In 1959 Alaska joins the nation adding the 49th star and Hawaii becomes a state in 1960 adding the 50th star. The American flag from 1960 has remained the same to this day and is the longest flying banner in our nation's history.