The US Flag in the 20th Century (1st half)

4 March 1907

Advertisement for Stars and Stripes beer, which the Supreme Court agreed violated
Advertisement for Stars and Stripes beer, illegal according to a 1903 Nebraska flag protection law. (Image from research by a great great granddaughter of Nicholas Vanderbilt Halter.)

In Halter v. Nebraska the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of two businessmen for “desecrating” the flag by using its imagery on the label of their “Stars and Stripes” brand beer.


4 July 1912

The US flag for most of the 20th century (1912-1959).
The US flag for most of the 20th century (1912-1959).

The US adopts the 48-star flag, recognizing the admission of New Mexico and Arizona earlier that year.  This marks a turning point in US flag design: no longer could individual flag makers decide how to arrange the stars in the union, as a single approved pattern is specified in Taft’s executive orders 1556 and 1637.


27 September 1918

Ernest V. Starr
Ernest V. Starr refused to kiss a flag.

In a draconian case of flag-based prosecution, Ernest V. Starr is sentenced in Montana to 10-20 years hard labor for refusing a mob’s demand he kiss a flag, saying: What is this thing anyway? Nothing but a piece of cotton with a little paint on it, and some other marks in the corner there. I will not kiss that thing. It might be covered with microbes. Released in 1921 when his sentence was commuted.


14 June 1923

[We] will develop a definite code of rules so that every man, woman, and child in this country may know how to honor and revere the American flag.  Let us not be ashamed to demonstrate our loyalty and affection for the flag.  May we take pride in revealing this sentiment before our fellow countrymen, for it is a worthy and manly emotion. (Speech by the American Legion’s national commander to the 1923 National Flag Conference, quoted in Leepson’s Flag: An American Biography, pp. 197-198).

In the waning years of the First Red Scare, the Americanism Committee of the American Legion convenes the first National Flag Conference in Washington, DC, and adopts the US Flag Code, flag etiquette guidelines which eventually will become federal law in 1942.  Harding’s Labor Secretary “warned the conference that ‘disrepect for the flag’ was one of the ‘first steps’ toward communist revolution” (Leepson, p. 198).


3 March 1931

Minor news buried within the New York Times of 3/5/1931.
Minor news buried within the New York Times of 3/5/1931.

Persistent lobbying by Rep. John Charles Linthicum (D-Maryland) pays off as Congress passes a law making The Star-Spangled Banner the national anthem, 117 years after Key wrote it.


August 1942

"American Gothic, Washington, D.C." by Gordon Parks (1912-2006)
“American Gothic, Washington, D.C.” by Gordon Parks (1912-2006)

Working for the Farm Security Administration and struggling to live in segregated Washington, D.C., African American photographer Gordon Parks poses Ella Watson, who he met when she was cleaning the FSA building, in front of a huge flag on the wall.  The image becomes “one of his most famous and enduring expressions of outrage at America’s treatment of black people” (Charles Johnson, writing in Fields of Vision: The Photographs of Gordon Parks).


23 February 1945

The most famous image of the 48-star flag.
The most famous image of the 48-star flag.

AP war photographer Joe Rosenthal takes his Pulitzer prize-winning photo, Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima.


3 August 1949

Flag Day passes unnoticed in much of the country. But Quincy, Massachusetts has been holding a Flag Day Parade annually since 1952.   Photo by Robert Bosworth, Quincy Sun, 6/14/2014.
Flag Day passes unnoticed in much of the country, but Quincy, Massachusetts has been holding a large Flag Day Parade annually since 1952. Photo of the 2014 festivities by Robert Bosworth, Quincy Sun.

Congress officially recognizes Flag Day.  Wisconsin dentist Bernard J. Cigrand (1866-1932), the “father of Flag Day”, campaigned for decades for its annual observance.  His National Flag Day Society convinced Woodrow Wilson to proclaim the holiday in 1916, but only in 1949 did Congress legislate it in a joint resolution.  It requests that presidents annually issue proclamations calling for its observance, and so they do.

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Author: SDM

Ethnography * Technology * Design

2 thoughts on “The US Flag in the 20th Century (1st half)”

  1. “Harding’s Labor Secretary “warned the conference that ‘disrespect for the flag’ was one of the ‘first steps’ toward communist revolution” Thank you for this: The US Flag in the 20th Century (1st half). – JPG

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