American Flag Evolution

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We all know what tomorrow is, so we thought it would be fun to take a quick look back at all of the variations over the past 237 years of those gorgeous stars and stripes, the American flag!

But there’s a few funny things to be aware of.  First off, the first American flag was NOT the “Betsy Ross Flag” with a circle of thirteen stars.  It was a flag with the familiar stripes, but instead of a field of stars, there was a British Union Flag in their place.  This “Grand Union Flag” was very, very similar to the flag of the British East India Company.  It wasn’t until June 14th, 1777, that an official design was declared by the Continental Congress, and the familiar stars and stripes came into use, but not as a national flag, as a navy ensign, to be flown on naval ships.  And, even more interesting, the resolution passed by Congress was not specific about how the stars and stripes should be arranged, resulting in a wide variety of shapes and arrangements of stars over the years.  Arrangements weren’t made official until the 48-star flag in 1912!  Even the colors weren’t officially locked down until 1934!

In 1795, with fifteen states in the union, the number of stripes was increased from thirteen to fifteen along with the stars.  This could have gotten messy (imagine a flag with 50 stripes!), and, thankfully, they went back to thirteen stripes representing the original Thirteen Colonies in 1818, which was also when the notion of adding a star for each new state was created.  Officially, the flag’s new number of stars (and, now, the official design) becomes official nationwide on the first July 4th after a new state is admitted.  This is why there was a 49-star flag for one year, even though both Alaska and Hawaii became states in 1959, since Alaska became a state in January 1959, causing a 49-star flag to be adopted that July, but Hawaii didn’t become a state until August 1959, causing the current 50-star flag to become official on July 4th, 1960.

And, there are, believe it or not, designs already in stand-by with 51, 52, 53, 54, 55 and 56 stars on them, just in case (one for each of the five U.S. Territories and DC, probably,  in case they become states).

Whew!  Really, we could go on forever (did we mention the Betsy Ross story is probably a legend, and that New Jersey’s Francis Hopkinson probably was the actual designer of the 1777 flag?), but we’ll stop now, let you get back to your fireworks and cookouts, and let you take a look at this gallery of flags through the years!

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