Episode 18 (formerly 1606): The American Flag


In Episode 1507 of this podcast, I mentioned that the Founding Fathers declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776. Almost one year later, on June 14, 1777, those same Founding Fathers passed an act establishing an official flag for the new nation.

The new flag was based on the design of a banner carried by the Continental Army in 1776. The designer was likely Congressman Francis Hopkinson, although folklore names Betsy Ross, a seamstress from Philadelphia, as the designer. Ask anyone who grew up in America about the first flag and they will probably say Betsy Ross made it.

The American flag has undergone several changes through the years, mainly regarding the arrangement of the stars. Today’s flag has a blue square in the upper left corner with 50 stars arranged on it in a geometric pattern. The rest of the flag consists of 13 red and white stripes, seven red ones alternating with six white ones.

The 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies. The 50 stars represent the 50 states and are arranged into a group to signify the union of individual states into one country. As for the colors, blue is for vigilance, perseverance and justice; white is for purity and innocence; and red is for hardiness and valor.

People use several nicknames for the flag. One is Old Glory, after a nickname for a particular flag owned by William Driver, a Massachusetts sea captain. Another nickname is The Star-Spangled Banner after the name of the national anthem. Yet another nickname for the flag is The Stars and Stripes, for obvious reasons.

In 1949 President Harry S. Truman officially declared June 14 each year to be Flag Day. Although it is not a federal holiday, some communities have a local, legal holiday on that date. Interestingly, the US Army celebrates its birthday on June 14 as well. On this day, people display flags at home and at public buildings. Some places also have flag-raising ceremonies, special school lessons about the flag, and parades or concerts honoring the flag.

Here are some interesting facts about the American flag:

  • The American flag was the first national flag to have 5-pointed stars instead of 6-pointed.
  • The nickname of the first version of the American flag was The Grand Union Flag.
  • An American flag inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814. The song later became America’s national anthem. This flag is preserved in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
  • A total of six American flags are planted on the moon. Neil Armstrong planted the first one in 1969.
  • Barry Bishop placed an American flag on top of Mount Everest in 1963. He was part of the first American team to successfully climb the mountain.
  • Residents of the USA can get a flag that has been flown over the nation’s Capitol building in Washington, D.C., by ordering it from their congressional representative.
  • Flags are flown at half-staff following the deaths of important people or in times of national or international crisis.

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