Usa flag description: The American Flag | USAGov

History of the American Flag | A Capitol Fourth

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed an act establishing an official flag for the new nation. The resolution 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.” On Aug. 3, 1949, President Harry S. Truman officially declared June 14 as Flag Day.

The history of our flag is as fascinating as that of the American Republic itself. It has survived battles, inspired songs and evolved in response to the growth of the country it represents. The following is a collection of interesting facts and customs about the American flag and how it is to be displayed:


  • The origin of the first American flag is unknown. Some historians believe it was designed by New Jersey Congressman Francis Hopkinson and sewn by Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross.
  • The name Old Glory was given to a large, 10-by-17-foot flag by its owner, William Driver, a sea captain from Massachusetts.  Inspiring the common nickname for all American flags, Driver’s flag is said to have survived multiple attempts to deface it during the Civil War. Driver was able to fly the flag over the Tennessee Statehouse once the war ended. The flag is a primary artifact at the National Museum of American History and was last displayed in Tennessee by permission of the Smithsonian at an exhibition in 2006.

Old Glory
Photo Credit:  Hugh Talman / NMAH, SI

  • Between 1777 and 1960 Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.
  • Today the flag consists of 13 horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 Colonies and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well; red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.
  • The National Museum of American History has undertaken a long-term preservation project of the enormous 1814 garrison flag that survived the 25-hour shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by British troops and inspired Francis Scott Key to compose “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Often referred to by that name, the flag had become soiled and weakened over time and was removed from the museum in December 1998. This preservation effort began in earnest in June 1999, and continues to this day. The flag is now stored at a 10-degree angle in a special low-oxygen, filtered light chamber and is periodically examined at a microscopic level to detect signs of decay or damage within its individual fibers.
  • There are a few locations where the U.S. flag is flown 24 hours a day, by either presidential proclamation or by law:

               – Fort McHenry, National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland

               – Flag House Square, Baltimore, Maryland

               – United States Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia

               – On the Green of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts

               – The White House, Washington, D. C.

               – United States customs ports of entry

               – Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania


  • After a British bombardment, amateur poet Francis Scott Key was so inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying over Baltimore’s Fort McHenry that he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sept. 14, 1814. It officially became our national anthem in 1931.
  • In 1892, the flag inspired James B. Upham and Francis Bellamy to write The Pledge of Allegiance. It was first published in a magazine called The Youth’s Companion.

On Distant Shores

  • The first time the American flag was flown overseas on a foreign fort was in Libya, over Fort Derne, on the shores of Tripoli in 1805.
  • In 1909, Robert Peary placed an American flag, sewn by his wife, at the North Pole. He also left pieces of another flag along the way. It is the only time a person has been honored for cutting the flag.
  • In 1963, Barry Bishop placed the American flag on top of Mount Everest.
  • In July 1969, the American flag was “flown” in space when Neil Armstrong placed it on the moon. Flags were placed on the lunar surface on each of six manned landings during the Apollo program.

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Displaying the Stars and Stripes

  • The flag is usually displayed from sunrise to sunset. It should be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously. In inclement weather, the flag should not be flown.
  • The flag should be displayed daily and on all holidays, weather permitting, on or near the main administration buildings of all public institutions. It should also be displayed in or near every polling place on election days and in or near every schoolhouse during school days.
  • When displayed flat against a wall or a window, or in a vertical orientation, the “union” field of stars should be uppermost and to the left of the observer.
  • When the flag is raised or lowered as part of a ceremony, and as it passes by in parade or review, everyone, except those in uniform, should face the flag with the right hand over the heart.
  • The U.S. flag should never be dipped toward any person or object, nor should the flag ever touch anything beneath it.

flag of the United States of America

national flag consisting of white stars (50 since July 4, 1960) on a blue canton with a field of 13 alternating stripes, 7 red and 6 white. The 50 stars stand for the 50 states of the union, and the 13 stripes stand for the original 13 states. The flag’s width-to-length ratio is 10 to 19.

After the American Revolution began, the first, unofficial national flag—known as the Continental Colours (or, sometimes, as the Grand Union Flag, the Cambridge Flag, the Somerville Flag, or the Union Flag)—was hoisted on a towering 76-foot (23-metre) liberty pole at Prospect Hill in Charlestown (now in Somerville), Massachusetts, on January 1, 1776; it was raised at the behest of Gen. George Washington, whose headquarters were nearby. The flag had 13 horizontal stripes (probably of red and white or of red, white, and blue) and, in the canton, the first version of the British Union Flag (Union Jack). As the flag of the Continental Army, it flew at forts and on naval vessels. Another popular early flag, that of the 1765 Sons of Liberty, had only nine red and white stripes. Various versions of “Don’t Tread on Me” coiled-rattlesnake flags appeared on many 18th-century American colonial banners, including several flown by military units during the Revolutionary War. The version carried by the Minutemen of Culpeper County, Virginia, for example, included not only the rattlesnake and the “Don’t Tread on Me” motto but also Virginia patriot Patrick Henry’s famous words “Liberty or Death.”

The first official national flag, formally approved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, was the Stars and Stripes. That first Flag Resolution read, in toto, “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. ” The layout of the stars was left undefined, and many patterns were used by flag makers. The designer of the flag—most likely Congressman Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Philadelphia—may have had a ring of stars in mind to symbolize the new constellation. Today that pattern is popularly known as the “Betsy Ross flag,” although the widely circulated story that she made the first Stars and Stripes and came up with the ring pattern is unsubstantiated. Rows of stars (4-5-4 or 3-2-3-2-3) were common, but many other variations also existed. The new Stars and Stripes formed part of the military colours carried on September 11, 1777, at the Battle of the Brandywine, perhaps its first such use.

The Stars and Stripes changed on May 1, 1795, when Congress enacted the second Flag Resolution, which mandated that new stars and stripes be added to the flag when new states were admitted to the Union. The first two new states were Vermont (1791) and Kentucky (1792). (One such flag was the 1,260-square-foot [117-square-metre] “Star-Spangled Banner,” made by Mary Pickersgill, that Francis Scott Key saw at Fort McHenry in September 1814, which inspired him to write the patriotic poem that later supplied the lyrics of the national anthem.) In 1818, after five more states had been admitted, Congress enacted the third and last Flag Resolution, requiring that henceforth the number of stripes should remain 13, the number of stars should always match the number of states, and any new star should be added on the July 4 following a state’s admission. This has been the system ever since. In all, from 1777 to 1960 (after the admission of Hawaii in 1959), there were 27 versions of the flag—25 involving changes in the stars only. An executive order signed by Pres. William Howard Taft on October 29, 1912, standardized for the first time the proportions and relative sizes of the elements of the flag; in 1934 the exact shades of colour were standardized.

There is no official assignment of meaning or symbolism to the colours of the flag. However, Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, in describing the proposed Great Seal of the United States, suggested the following symbolism: “White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue…signifies vigilence [sic], perseverence [sic] & justice.” As with many other national flags, the Stars and Stripes has long been a focus of patriotic sentiment. Since 1892, millions of children have recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag at the start of each school day, and the lyrics of the national anthem are also concerned with the flag. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that all flag desecration laws were unconstitutional, some veterans’ and patriotic groups pressured legislators to adopt laws or a constitutional amendment prohibiting flag desecration. Such legislation has been opposed on the grounds that it would infringe on the constitutionally guaranteed First Amendment freedom of expression.

During the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America began to use its first flag, the Stars and Bars, on March 5, 1861. Soon after, the first Confederate Battle Flag was also flown. The design of the Stars and Bars varied over the following two years. On May 1, 1863, the Confederacy adopted its first official national flag, often called the Stainless Banner. A modification of that design was adopted on March 4, 1865, about a month before the end of the war. In the latter part of the 20th century, many groups in the South challenged the practice of flying the Confederate Battle Flag on public buildings, including some state capitols. Proponents of the tradition argued that the flag recalled Southern heritage and wartime sacrifice, whereas opponents saw it as a symbol of racism and slavery, inappropriate for official display.

Whitney SmithMarc Leepson

US Flag History | US Encyclopedia

Continental Flag

«Flag of the Grand Union», the first flag of the USA

When the independence of the United States of America was proclaimed on July 4, 1776, the young state was still
did not have an official flag.

It is believed that the first flag used as the flag of the United States was the so-called «Grand Union Flag»
(«Continental Flag», «Flag of the Continental Congress», «First Naval Flag»). He practically repeated
except for the number of stripes) flag of the British East India Company.

The «Continental Flag» was first used as a national flag on December 2, 1775 by Lieutenant
Continental Navy by John Paul Jones, who raised it on the ship Alfred in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is known that the «First naval flag»
was sewn by dressmaker Margaret Manny.

In the next year and a half, the «Continental Flag» was used by North American revolutionaries, including
future first President of the United States, George Washington, as a naval and army officer

Flag of Betsy Ross

«Betsy Ross Flag» — the first official flag of the United States

Betsy Ross Sewing the US Flag

On June 14, 1777, the Marine Committee of the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution stating:

stars, white on a blue field, representing the new constellation. »

The first US President George Washington spoke of the US flag:

«We took the stars from heaven, red is the color of our homeland, the white stripes that separate it mean
that we have separated from it; these white stripes will go down in history as a symbol of freedom.»

There is no reliable information about who exactly was the author of the US flag. According to one version, the flag was
proposed exactly as it was received by Francis Hopkinson, former chairman of the Maritime Committee of the Second
Continental Congress and one of the authors of the US Declaration of Independence.

A widely circulated and very popular story in the US is that the first US flag was made by Betsy Ross, a dressmaker from
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. According to legend, the first President of the United States
George Washington, financier George Ross and Colonel Robert Morris approached Betsy Ross with an offer to sew a flag.
new state. During the discussion, Betsy suggested replacing the six-pointed stars (as originally planned) with
five-pointed, her proposal was accepted.

The flag is believed to have been made by Betsy Ross for the United States Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

Betsy Ross shows the flag to George Washington, George Ross and Robert Morris
(art. Jean Ferris)

This was the «Star Spangled Banner»

In 1795, after the entry of the states of Vermont and Kentucky into the United States,
The number of stars and stripes on the US flag was increased from thirteen to fifteen. Just like that, with fifteen stars and
fifteen stripes, became famous as the «Star Spangled Banner»
US flag seen by American poet Francis Key over Fort McHenry in 1814. Impressed by what you see
Francis Key wrote the poem «The Defense of Fort McHenry», which later became a text
US anthem.

In 1818, the number of stripes on the US flag was reduced to the original thirteen and subsequently to the flag
only stars were added, according to the number of states in the country.

The fiftieth star was added to the US flag in 1960, when the last state entered the US today —

The US Army Institute of Heraldry has prepared proposals for redesigning the US flag at a very reasonable cost.
future increase in the number of states.

One of the proposed designs for the US flag with 51 stars

More about other US symbols:

  • US flag
    • «Star Spangled Banner»
    • «Old Glory»
  • Great Seal (Coat of Arms) USA
  • US National Anthem
  • USA Mottos
  • Bald Eagle
  • Oak
  • Rose
  • General Grant Sequoia
  • Uncle Sam
  • Statue of Liberty
  • Liberty Bell
  • Gateway to the West Arch
  • Baseball
  • American Football
  • Bourbon

What does the US flag mean? History of the US and Confederate Flag

Americans are very proud of their national flag. The banners were even given a few unofficial nicknames, such as «Old Glory» or «Stars and Stripes». Many beautiful legends and traditions are associated with it. The US flag is indeed quite remarkable. Firstly, it is one of the oldest in the world, second only to the flags of Great Britain and France. Secondly, the tones in which it is painted are much darker than the colors traditionally used for the flags of other countries. This oddity is explained by the fact that in the 18th century (when the Stars and Stripes banner appeared) there were no sufficiently resistant dyes yet. We had to take the darkest colors so that the flag would not fade in the sun for as long as possible.

Today, the American flag is one of the most recognizable and replicated symbols in the world.

American Revolution Banners

The history of the US flag begins almost 250 years ago. The need for their own flag among the American colonists arose only during the war for independence from Great Britain (1775-1783). The banner of the new state was one of the standards of the army of George Washington — the future first president of the United States. However, a variety of banners fluttered over the shelves of Washington, each of which, under certain circumstances, could today crown the roof of the White House. Alternatives to Stars and Stripes could be:

  • The Gadsden flag, named after its creator, Colonel Christopher Gadsden. This unusual banner is a yellow cloth, which depicts a rattlesnake preparing to attack, and under it is a warning: «Do not step on me.» After the 2001 New York bombings, the rattlesnake flag with red and white stripes began to be used as a guis by the US Navy. It was a kind of response to world terrorism. Also, the classic Gadsden flag is often raised by representatives of radical political movements.
  • Continental flag. Paradoxically, in some parts of the front, the war against Great Britain was fought under the British flag: the Continental Banner is a fragment of the flag of the United Kingdom, placed against a background of 13 red and white stripes. The stripes were supposed to symbolize the first 13 American colonies.
  • «Freedom Tree». The banner is a green pine tree depicted on a white background, above which the inscription: «Appeal to heaven» is displayed. A variety of white pine that grows in America was highly valued in England. As a result, all trees of this species were declared the property of the British crown, and the colonists were strictly forbidden to cut pine trees for their own needs. In 1772, the Pine Riot broke out in the colonies against royal prohibitions. Since then, American white pine has been called the «Freedom Tree».

What the stars and stripes on the US flag mean

After the start of the American Revolution, various modifications of the Continental Flag were used as an unofficial state banner in different states. The first known all-American version of the banner appeared in 1776. The flag was named after its legendary creator, seamstress Betsy Ross. According to legend, the girl was invited to a meeting to discuss the new banner. George Washington decided to keep 13 stripes, and replace the fragment of the British flag with a blue field with thirteen white six-pointed stars arranged in a circle. Betsy improved this option a little, making the stars five-pointed. Although this legend is not very plausible, it fell in love with all Americans, and Betsy Ross became a real symbol of the struggle against the British Empire.

However, the Betsy Ross flag was not destined to become the official flag of the states. On June 14, 1777, the United States Congress approved the uniform design of the flag. According to the law, the banner had to have 13 longitudinal stripes and 13 stars arranged in rows. The authorship of the flag is attributed to the lawyer Francis Hopkinson, however, this standard existed long before 1777 and was used by the US Navy. According to George Washington himself, the stripes on the flag meant independence from Great Britain. Red is the color of the British Crown and white is the color of freedom. The stars also meant the union of 13 independent colonies. Since then, June 14 has become a national holiday for all Americans.

However, the history of the US flag did not end there. The number of stars on the banner increased all the time as new states entered the state. In total, the design of the flag has changed 26 times. The last change was made in 1960 after the entry of Hawaii into the United States. Since then, the American banner has 50 stars. However, not so long ago, another version of the flag was developed — already with 51 stars. But the number of bands for all 250 years has been changed only once. On the flag of 1795-1818, which was used after Vermont and Kentucky joined the USA, there were 15 stripes. However, during the next modernization of the flag, they decided to remove two new stripes.

Confederate flag

In the 1860s, an event occurred that could not only change the history of the states, but also the flag of this state. During these years, there was a civil war, also known as the War of the North and the South. During the conflict, the southern states seceded from the United States and created their own Confederation. The army of each of the states of the Confederation went into battle under its own banner, however, the Southern Cross became the most famous standard of the southerners. This banner was a blue diagonal cross depicted on a red background with thirteen white stars. To this day, Americans are ambivalent about the Confederate flag. If for some this banner is part of a glorious past, for others it is a symbol of xenophobia and racial hatred.

Read also: The American Civil War (1861-1865): causes, course, results

The Stars and Stripes banner changed along with America and reflected the most important changes in the life of the state. Today, for some, it embodies heroic events and the struggle for independence, and for some, it embodies the desire for world domination. But in any case, there is an interesting and rich history behind the US flag.

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