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Flag Day: A Surprising History

It's Flag Day! The official holiday to commemorate and honor our nation's flag.

Do you know why we celebrate on June 14th? And just how long has this been an honorary day?

The story begins in the Summer of 1777. The American Revolution had been raging for over two years, and the Continental Army needed a symbol to fight under. A symbol that would bring a sense of unity and organization. That symbol was the first American Flag. On June 14th, 1777 the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia passed a resolution stating the flag would have 13 stripes, alternating red and white. As well as the Union being represented as 13 stars in a field of blue to indicate a "New Constellation." This original flag is still known to this day as "Old Glory."

Legend has it that Betsy Ross sewed the first American Flag. But, she actually wasn't credited with this milestone in her lifetime. Almost a century after she passed, her grandson William Canby recalled the stories Betsy told him about the time she was asked to make the flag. Allegedly, she had frequent visits from George Washington, Robert Morris, and Colonel George Ross. George Ross was a relative and Betsy reportedly attended the same church as George Washington, so it is plausible she could've been recommended for the job. There are also official receipts from other projects showing Betsy did indeed make flags.

So, now that we have an official U.S. flag, we also have Flag Day, correct?

Surprisingly, no. Flag Day still would not become an official Holiday for many years.

Fast-forward another century, it's 1885 and a 19 year old Wisconsin School Teacher, Bernard J. Cigrand, insists that he and his students should honor the flag on June 14th. This was the first known observance of Flag Day. Cigrand continued to advocate for an official holiday the remainder of his life. 31 years later in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson worked to establish an official Flag day. But, it still wasn't until August 3rd, 1949 that Harry S Truman signed an Act of Congress making Flag Day an official holiday.

Since federal law requires a new star be added every time a state joins the union, the flag has changed many times over the years. 27 times to be exact. The last change came on July 4th, 1960 when Hawaii became a state. In the year 1959, an Ohio High Schooler correctly predicted Hawaii would become a state, and he drafted a mockup of what an updated flag would look like. Robert Heft sent the design to his Congressman. That Congressman sent the design to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Heft is officially credited for the design of the modern American Flag.

Did You Know?

Each and every element of the United States flag was designed with intention and purpose.

Until President William Howard Taft signed an executive order in 1912 declaring an official flag design, the original Flag Act of 1777 had no rules for the position of the stars and stripes. This left the design open to interpretation of the flag maker and there are many versions of the flag predating the order.

Our current 50 star version became official on July 4,1960 and is the longest running American flag design.

The colors on the flag are "White", "Old Glory Red", and "Old Glory Blue".

The flag of the United States shall have thirteen horizontal stripes, alternate red and white, and a union consisting of white stars on a field of blue.

From the US Flag Code: Section1

It wasn't until the seal of the United States was designed that the colors were assigned significance, though, when Charles Thompson (Secretary) wrote to Congress:

"The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."

The 13 Stripes on the American flag represent the 13 original colonies, with 7 red stripes alternating with 6 white stripes.

Each of the states in America is represented by the 50 white stars.

The stars were originally meant to signify a "new constellation". Over the years the arrangement and number of stars has changed with the addition of new states.

Code of Conduct

The United States has an official Flag Code which establishes advisory rules for display and care of the flag of the United States. It is Section 1 of Title 4 of the United States Code (4 U.S.C. § 1 et seq).

These are standards of respect that dictate how to properly handle, display, and retire a US flag. Each rule has a specific purpose and history, from where the stars should be placed when hanging or wearing, to how to hoist your flag quickly when raising and ceremoniously when lowering.

Folding with Honor

If you have ever seen the handling of the US flag at a military funeral, you may have noticed how precise and careful the honor guard are as they make the ceremonious 13 folds.

Each fold holds special significance and is a powerful commemoration of respect for those who have served under our nation's beautiful flag.

Flag etiquette dictates that every time an American flag is to be stored or presented during a ceremony, its handlers should fold it in half twice lengthwise; then starting with the end opposite the blue field, make a taut triangular fold. Handlers continue to fold the flag in triangles until the flag has formed a triangular “pillow” with the blue field showing on the outside. It’s a dignified way to treat the flag, and gives a powerful touch to patriotic ceremonies.

The meaning of the 13 folds:

  1. The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.

  2. The second fold signifies our belief in eternal life.

  3. The third fold is made in honor and tribute of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace.

  4. The fourth fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.

  5. The fifth fold is an acknowledgement to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealign with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”

  6. The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

  7. The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies.

  8. The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.

  9. The ninth fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of men and women who have made this country great have been molded.

  10. The 10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first-born.

  11. The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

  12. The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.

  13. The last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”

Knowing the unlikely story of how the American Flag came to be, and recognizing it's beautiful significance as a symbol of unity, should make us even more appreciative of this land we live in.

How blessed we are to live in the greatest country in the world!


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