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America’s Flag – An Evolved Banner for an Ever-Changing Country

There have been 27 official flags of the US – it changes with the nation.

By:  |  June 12, 2021  |    492 Words

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Flag Day is here – the day Americans celebrate one of our nation’s most iconic symbols. The banner we have today has gone through many changes.

The Earliest American Flags


Re-enactment of Betsy Ross making the first American flag. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

During the Revolutionary War, the colonists used several different banners. The first unofficial flag went by several names including Continental Colors, the Grand Union Flag, the Union Flag, the Cambridge Flag, and the Somerville Flag. It was hoisted on a 76-foot liberty pole at Prospect Hill in Charleston, Massachusetts – which is now known as Somerville. The design combined thirteen stripes to represent the unity of the colonies and the British Union Jack.

francis scott key war of 1812

The American flag flying over Fort McHenry. (Photo by GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

Also during this time, the Continental Navy used a red and white striped banner with the warning “Don’t Tread on Me” inscribed on it. It featured a coiled rattlesnake along with patriot Patrick Henry’s famous words, “Liberty or Death.”

Although some historians disagree, Washington reportedly commissioned Betsy Ross to sew and design the first official flag, which was presented to and approved by Congress.

Birth of the Star-Spangled Banner

Just before the War of 1812, two new states were added to the Union, bringing the total to 15. The flag was altered to make room for 15 stars and stripes. This was the only official version to have more than 13 stripes. While it flew over Fort McHenry during a British naval battle, Francis Scott Key became inspired to write what would become America’s national anthem: The Star-Spangled Banner.

In 1818, Congress decided that all flags from then on should always have 13 stripes to represent the original 13 colonies and the number of stars should match the number of states in the Union. Any new stars shall be added on July 4 after a new state has joined, and this system continues today. From 1777 to 1960 (after Hawaii was added in 1959), there were 27 versions of the flag.

The exact shades of color were not established until 1934 and there is no official meaning or symbolism attributed to the red, white, and blue. However, while discussing the proposed Great Seal of the United States, Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, suggested:

“White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue … signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”

Today, there are many places where the flag is flown 24-hours a day:

  • american flag

    (Photo by Alfred Gescheidt/Getty Images)

    The White House

  • Fort McHenry National Monument
  • Customs ports of entry
  • Flag House Square
  • Marine Corps Memorial (remembrance of Iwo Jima) in Arlington, Virginia
  • On the town green in Lexington, Massachusetts
  • National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park in Pennsylvania

Test your knowledge – try a quiz based on this article!

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