Could you even guess how many times you have pledged allegiance to the United States flag as a symbol of our country? It is carried, raised, and saluted at special events, and it is displayed so many places that none of us could probably say how many times we pass by a flag in a single day. Yet, what would you say if someone said, “Tell me about your flag.”
Let’s start with what it is called.
- The United States (U.S.) flag.
- The American flag.
- The “Stars and Stripes”.
- The “Red, White, and Blue”.
- “Old Glory”.
- The “Star-Spangled Banner”.
The names “Stars and Stripes” and “Red, White, and Blue” are self-explanatory titles.
The original “Old Glory” was owned by sea captain William Driver, who gave the flag its name. The 17-foot x 10-foot flag was sewn by his mother and other women as a gift to Driver when he became Captain of his own ship at age 21. When he retired from seafaring, he moved to Nashville where he hung the flag across the street to display it. In 1860, Driver, his wife, and his daughters repaired the flag, added ten stars, and added a small white anchor. With the start of the Civil War, Driver supported the Union, but two of his sons joined the Confederate Army. After Tennessee’s secession, Governor Harris sent a group of men to Driver’s home to take his flag. Driver’s response was, “… over my dead body.” He and some of his neighbors sewed the flag into a coverlet and hid it. There it stayed until 1862 when the Union Army took Nashville. At that time, Driver allowed “Old Glory” to be flown over the Capitol for one night, but fears of damage from a storm caused him to change his mind. In 1864, when the Confederate Army tried to retake Nashville, Drake displayed the flag out of a window, and then joined the battle. The Smithsonian Institution has two flags donated by Drake’s daughter and niece known as “Old Glory.” The larger one donated by his daughter is believed to be the real “Old Glory.”
The “Star-Spangled Banner” refers to the flag that flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, from September 12 to September 14, 1814 during a British Naval attack on the fort and the city. Starting on September 13, the attack involved 25 hours of continuous shelling during heavy rain by 19 British ships and 5,000 British soldiers. The British quit when they were unable to enter the harbor. The name “Star Spangled Banner” came from a poem originally titled “Defence of Fort M’Henry” written by Francis Scott Key. Key was being detained on a British truce ship during the battle. When he saw the battered flag was still flying after the shelling stopped, he wrote the poem, which was renamed “The Star Spangled Banner, made into a song, and chosen as the National Anthem. The 30-foot x 42-foot flag was specially ordered by Major George Armistead so that the British would be sure to see it. Mary Young Pickersgill made the flag with the assistance of four other women at a cost of $405.90, which would be over $5,000 today. The design, created in 1794, included 15 red and white strips and 15 stars for the original 13 colonies plus Vermont and Kentucky. It featured five rows of three stars each with the rows of stars offset. The stars were two feet in diameter and the stripes were two feet wide.
Description and Meaning of the Current Design
Adopted on July 4, 1960, after Hawaii became a state, the current United States flag design features 13 alternating red and white stripes for the original 13 colonies and 50 white stars on a field of blue for the current 50 states. The stars are arranged in alternating rows of six and five stars. The height to width ratio of the flag is 10:19.
Traditionally, symbolism has been ascribed to the colors of the flag. Red was for hardiness and valor, white symbolized purity and innocence, and blue represented vigilance, perseverance and justice. Additionally, it has been stated that the stars symbolize the heavens as man’s divine goal, and the stripes represents the rays from the sun. However, the first documented mention of the significance of the colors was in 1782 when the Great Seal was adopted, which was five years after the flag was adopted. Also, the earliest national flag design, the Grand Union or the Continental Colors, appears to be derived from the British East India Company’s flag that had alternating red and white stripes and a British-Union-Jack-like design in the upper left corner. This leaves it unclear whether or not the colors were selected for symbolic reasons.
The current flag is the 27th version of the United States flag and has been used for 59 years, which is the longest any U. S. flag design has remained unchanged. The first national flag, adopted on December 3, 1775, was the Grand Union or Continental Colors flag mentioned previously.
The Second Continental Congress adopted a Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777, now Flag Day, designating that a flag with 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 white stars on a blue background be used as a national flag.
The Second Continental Congress was actually establishing a flag for the army and the navy, not a national flag for the country. Since they didn’t specify the exact design, flag makers created many different hand-sewn versions of this flag including the “Betsey Ross flag” with its undocumented history.
Flags were used as emblems for military units rather than national symbols up until the Battle of Fort Sumter, the first battle of the Civil War. The South Carolina militia shelled Fort Sumter from April 12, 1861 to April 13, 1861, and succeeded in capturing it. This loss gave rise to such a strong wave of patriotic fervor in Union that flags began to be mass-produced to keep up with the demand.
As mentioned previously, the Star Spangled Banner, adopted in 1795, had 15 stars and 15 stripes to include Kentucky and Vermont.
In 1818, Congress passed a resolution that designated that new flag designs be adopted on the next July 4th following the admission of a new state. That resolution allowed one star for each state, but returned the number of stripes to 13. The arrangement of the stars was not standardized, however, until the 48-star flag was created in 1912.
Alaska became the 49th state in 1959. In preparation for it’s admission, the United States held a national flag design competition, and 1,500 designs were submitted. Hawaii was also being considered for statehood, so the majority of the submissions had 50 stars. Three of the submissions, one from a high school student, 17-year old Robert G. Heft had the same 49-star design.
Heft created his design as a school project, so his mother, a seamstress, told him that he would have to sew the flag on his own. Heft’s teacher initially gave him a B- for his work but agreed, jokingly, that if Congress accepted his design, the grade would be reconsidered. Heft’s design was accepted by presidential proclamation after Alaska was admitted as a state but before Hawaii joined the country a year later. It was flown over Fort McHenry on Independence Day in 1959. Heft’s teacher raised his grade to an A, and Heft had the honor of having his flag represent the United States for the next year, until Hawaii became the 50tieth state.
A new 51-star flag will be created if one of the U. S. territories or Washington, D.C. becomes a state. How would you arrange the stars?
How to hang a flag from a flag pole is obvious, right? Well, there are a few rules that many people may not know. Unless it is being flown at half-staff, the U. S, flag is hoisted to the top of the pole to the viewer’s left of and on the same level as other national flags. When displayed with non-national flags, the U. S. flag should be flying at a higher level or to the viewer’s left of the other flags. The flag should always be on the speaker’s right side on stage.
When hanging a flag outdoors over a street or on a wall without a pole, the flag should be hung vertically with the blue field to the north or east. The blue field should be away from the building when hanging over a sidewalk.
If you are displaying a flag indoors, you can hang it horizontally or vertically with the blue field on the viewer’s left.
Flag decals on vehicles require a sticker with a regular view of the blue field on the upper left for the left side of the vehicle. However, a flag decal for the right side of the vehicle should be a mirror image with the blue field toward the front of the vehicle on the viewer’s right.
Two really important flag etiquette rules are to never allow the flag to touch the ground and to never dip the flag to any person or thing. This practice originated at the 1908 Summer Olympics.
There also are two flag etiquette regulations that are commonly abused. The first one usually occurs at ceremonies when a large flag is carried in a flat or horizontal position by multiple people. The flag is supposed to be carried so that it is “aloft and free.” It should never be carried flat or horizontally. The second flag etiquette regulation that is abused is the ban on using the flag as wearing apparel or home decor items. The flag also is not to be used for advertising.
The only two restrictions on when the flag cannot be flown are at night, unless it is spotlighted, and during bad weather, unless it is an all-weather flag. You’ll see an increased number of flags displayed on some of the following days.
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
- Presidents’ Day.
- Armed Forces Day.
- Memorial Day.
- Flag Day.
- Independence Day.
- Labor Day.
- Veteran’s Day.
Some locations where the flag is flown continuously are as follows.
- Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland
- The Battle Green in Lexington, Massachusetts
- The White House, Washington, D.C.
- Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
- Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington, Virginia
- Newark Liberty International Airport’s Terminal A, Gate 17 and Boston Logan Airport’s Terminal B, Gate 32 and Terminal C, Gate 19 in memoriam of the events of September 11, 2001
Flying the flag at half-staff is meant to honor a person after their death and occurs on specially designated days. According to the Flag Code, the flag is flown at half-staff by order of the President for “principal figures of the United States Government and the Governor of a State, territory, or possession.” It is flown at half-staff for other officials or foreign dignitaries by order of the President or “in accordance with recognized customs or practices” not “inconsistent” with the Flag Code.
Governors of states, territories, or possessions also can order the flag to be flown at half-staff. The length of time includes “30 days for the death of a sitting or former President and ten days for the death of a sitting Vice-President.” With the inclusion of the phrase “in accordance with recognized customs or practices”, a debate has arisen between those who want to keep this practice as a special, high honor and those dealing with a regional loss. The flag should be raised to the top then lowered, and the reverse should be done when taking it down.
The U. S. flag is also used in funeral ceremonies of military personnel and some civil servants. The flag is draped over the casket. Before the casket is lowered into the ground, the flag is removed and given to the next of kin.
When the flag is taken down to be stored, there is a specific procedure for folding it by two people. It is to be folded in half width-wise two times. Then, starting at the striped end, a diagonal fold is made. This fold is alternated from side to side creating a triangular shape leaving a blue end that is tucked into the folds.
A tattered flag should be repaired or replaced. If it cannot be repaired, it is usually retired in a ceremony conducted by the American Legion, the Boy Scouts, or similar organizations. The flag is usually burned, but it may be buried.
Even though the Flag Code is incorporated into federal law, there are no penalties for violations of the code.