The Star And Stripes: Eight Things Every American Should Know About Their Flag (IMAGES)

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It’s Independence Day, and there is nothing that has come to symbolize our nation more than our flag. But did you know that the flag as we know it didn’t actually exist until two years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence? Here are a few facts about the U.S. flag. Some you may know, some might be new to you, but they all tell us a little something about our flag, our nation, and ourselves as Americans. All facts come from the publication Our Flag, printed by the U.S. Government for public use.

1. We had no official flag until two years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Second Continental Congress authorized the creation of a national flag on June 14, 1777 (now known as Flag Day), via a resolution which declared that the flag would have alternating red and white stripes, and thirteen white stars on a blue field. But this wasn’t very specific, and was interpreted in a number of ways. Some stars had eight points, others had six. Some stars were arranged in rows, while others were arranged in circles.

Stony Hill School, first location to formally observe flag day (photo by Kevin Hansen CC3)

Stony Hill School, considered the first location to formally observe Flag Day (photo by Kevin Hansen CC3)

2. The person who thought of using stars on the flag only asked for one small cask of wine. Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, is said to have come up with the idea of representing the colonies (and future states) with stars. For this, he requested a “Quarter Cask of public wine” as reward for his services. His request was denied.

Image of Francis Hopkinson, circa 1850

Image of Francis Hopkinson, circa 1850

3. We don’t actually know who made the first flag. Although Betsy Ross is often credited with making the first flag, it’s really not clear that it was her. While Ross did make flags for over fifty years, it wasn’t until 1870 that the idea that she had made the first flag was expressed by her grandson, William Canby. Ross is, however, credited with the “Betsy Ross flag,” in which the stars are arranged in a circle.

The Birth of Old Glory by Percy Moran (1917)

The Birth of Old Glory by Percy Moran (1917)

4. We had a flag before the Stars and Stripes. Prior to the authorization of the national ‘stars and stripes’ flag in 1777, there was the Grand Union flag. This flag used the familiar thirteen red and white stripes, with a blue field in the upper left corner. But instead of stars on the blue field, the flag had the “red cross of St. George of England with the white cross of St. Andrew of Scotland.”

The Grand Union Flag

The Grand Union Flag

5. It was the flag adopted in January of 1794 that inspired the national anthem. This flag had fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, and was adopted after Kentucky and Vermont joined the union. This remained the official flag until 1818, four years after it inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner” while watching the bombardment of Fort McHenry, Maryland.

Photograph of the Fort McHenry Flag taken in 1917

Photograph of the Fort McHenry Flag taken in 1917

6. Someone had to realize that increasing stripes with every new state might not work. Capt. Samuel C. Reid realized that if we increased the number of stripes with each new state added to the union, that eventually it might not work so well. He suggested that we keep the number of stripes at thirteen to represent the original thirteen colonies, and instead only add a star when a new state joined the union.

US Navy official woodcutting of Samuel Reid

US Navy official woodcutting of Samuel Reid

7. There is a whole code of conduct when it comes to the flag. For instance:

“The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

“The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.”

“No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.”

The use of a flag over the coffin of a head of state is found within the Flag Code. Here is the coffin of President John F. Kennedy lying in state according to code.

The use of the flag over a coffin is found within the Flag Code. Here is the coffin of President John F. Kennedy lying in state.

8. There is one occasion when it’s okay to burn the flag. When a flag has reached the end of its life, and is no longer proper for display, the preferred disposal of the flag is by burning.