Happy National Flag Week

Every student of the US flag knows that it was officially adopted on 14 June 1777 when the Second Continental Congress passed what is now known as the First Flag Act:

Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.

Annually commemorating 14 June as Flag Day slowly took root in the US over the course of the 19th century, beginning with an observance in Hartford, Connecticut in 1861 “praying for the success of the Federal arms and the preservation of the Union.” It wasn’t until 1916 that it was recognized at the national level by proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson. In his proclamation Wilson talks about divisiveness in the American public:

Many circumstances have recently conspired to turn our thoughts to a critical examination of the conditions of our national life, of the influences which have seemed to threaten to divide us in interest and sympathy, of forces within and forces without that seemed likely to draw us away from the happy traditions of united purpose and action of which we have been so proud.

Flag Day, he says, is meant to quiet this discord and reestablish unity:

Let us on that day rededicate ourselves to the nation, “one and inseparable” from which every thought that is not worthy of our fathers’ first vows in independence, liberty, and right shall be excluded and in which we shall stand with united hearts, for an America which no man can corrupt, no influence draw away from its ideals, no force divide against itself, –a nation signally distinguished among all the nations of mankind for its clear, individual conception alike of its duties and its privileges, its obligations and its rights.

Still, it wasn’t until the advent of the Cold War that Congress acted in 1949 to establish 14 June as Flag Day, in 36 U.S. Code § 110.  Where Wilson’s proclamation was full of lofty rhetoric and concern over disunity, the Flag Day resolution itself is terse.

Section (a), Designation, states: “June 14 is Flag Day.” Section (b), Proclamation, does not itself proclaim anything, but instead asks the President to proclaim Flag Day each year.  The President is free to say anything he or she wants in these proclamations, so long the text (1) calls on “United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on Flag Day”; and (2) urges “the people of the United States to observe Flag Day as the anniversary of the adoption on June 14, 1777, by the Continental Congress of the Stars and Stripes as the official flag of the United States.”

Unlike other sections of the Patriotic and National Observances chapter of U.S. Code, section 110 doesn’t include a “Purpose” section or say anything about why observing this anniversary is important, leaving it up to each President, each year, to spin this as they see fit. In this year’s proclamation, the last in his presidency, President Obama uses a range of verbs to describe what the flag does: inspiring, representing, reminding, embodying, sustaining, persisting, and communicating.  Like Wilson, he stresses unity:

Our flag persists as a powerful representation of freedom and opportunity.  Waving high above capitol buildings and courthouses, military bases and embassies across the globe, and on the distant surface of the moon, it calls on each of us to remember our obligations to the Republic for which it stands and to carry forward the unwavering optimism that defines us.  America endures because of the courage of servicemen and women who serve under this standard, and our veterans are forever draped in the red, white, and blue when they are laid to rest.  Wherever the flag lies or flies, its message is clear:  We rise and fall together, as one Nation and one people.

Flag Day was apparently enough until 1966 when Congress passed a joint resolution:

That the President is authorized and requested to issue annually a proclamation designating the week in which June 14 occurs as National Flag Week, and calling upon all citizens to display the flag of the United States on those days.

President Johnson and his successors complied, adding additional Congressionally requested verbiage to what are now Flag Day and National Flag Week proclamations. In 1975 Congress apparently decided that one week wasn’t enough, and passed a joint resolution defining a three-week “Honor America Days” period:

That Congress declares the twenty-one days from Flag Day through Independence Day as a period to honor America, and further declares that there be public gatherings and activities at which the people of the United States can celebrate and honor their country in an appropriate manner.

Though Honor America Days does not request a presidential proclamation, and only implicitly involves the national flag, Flag Day and National Flag Week proclamations since 1977 (the bicentennial of the First Flag Act) have called upon Americans to observe this period.

Neither Flag Day, Flag Week, nor Honor America Days get much attention in contemporary America. Using Google News search results as a metric, these terms yield 82,000, 477, and 84 hits, respectively.  By comparison Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Fathers Day yield 648,000, 32.6 million, and 1.1 million hits.

 

 

More US Flag Improvements

We announced a provocative design exercise in Vexilloid Tabloid #57, namely:

Ignoring the political near-impossibility of change…simply from a DESIGN perspective, how could the US flag be improved?

We reported earlier on two proposals emailed to us, but there have been some other ideas presented since then, on our Facebook page, in the Flags and Vexillology discussion group, and at our meeting last evening.

The main theme was simplification, but that came in strikingly different forms.  Some looked to the history of the US flag’s evolution, and proposed reinstating the original 13-star, 13-stripe flag.

Others looked to this same evolutionary history of the US flag to simplify the flag not by reducing the number of stars, but by structuring them into a simpler pattern (something perceptual psychologists might call a gestalt) — either based on circles or the 5-pointed star shape itself. Here are some historical examples, plus a couple of proposals that look ahead to Puerto Rican statehood.  (Note that before 1912 no specific star pattern was specified.)

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Nick Artimovich of the Chesapeake Bay Flag Association posted this image of a beautiful and unusual 50-star concentric circle flag from his collection.

Zoli Truskova suggested reducing the number of stars to one, and replacing the blue canton with a blue bar at the hoist.  Truskova’s design is identical to the rather obscure “Ceremonial flag of the Texas Navy Association” (texasnavy.org), which was derived sometime after 1958 from the naval ensign and de facto first flag of the Republic of Texas (1836-39). For the ceremonial flag, the union was replaced by a blue bar at the hoist in order to distinguish it from the flag of Liberia (adopted 1847).

texas-navy-ceremonial
Truskova’s proposal. Also, the Texas Navy Assn. ceremonial flag.

Truskova’s design also brings to mind a proposal to replace the canton with a wide blue bar advocated by Navy veteran Samuel J. Kapral.  Kapral kept all 50 stars but wanted to give them enough space to be seen from a distance.  He sent his design to the White House in 2014 but never heard back.

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Samuel J. Kapral (1925-2015) shows his redesign.

PFA member David Koski presented a radical redesign that gives the 50 stars plenty of room — the entire field — by doing away with the stripes entirely.  It still has a blue canton, with 13 stars arranged in the Hopkinson pattern.

koski-all-star-flag
David Koski’s all-star flag.

The most radical simplification came from Matthew Brawn on Facebook, who represents the 13 original states with a 13-pointed star, on a diagonally divided field of red and blue divided by a rising white stripe symbolizing “the strength of the country”.

matthew-brawn-design
Matthew Brawn’s redesign.

Rather than redesign the US flag, contrarian Scott Mainwaring proposed to de-design it by proposing that the Feds relax the flag’s specifications to explicitly encourage organizations, manufacturers, and individuals to create their own star patterns.  Any flag having 13 red and white stripes and a blue canton of 50 stars, of any sizes, shapes, colors, or patterns, would meet the revised specification. He wrote:

Annin, Valley Forge, Flag Source, Flag Zone and local flag manufacturers might compete with one another in promoting their own in-house designs.  Individual US states might also create their own variants – perhaps California could use the stars to outline a bear, and Alaska could make the Big Dipper out of a subset of large stars and relegate the rest to small stars in background constellations.  With this freedom would come responsibility: It would be up to each variant designer to make their star pattern beautiful and meaningful.

In this way, the dull uniformity of millions of identical copies of the Standard US Flag could be replaced with a rich culture of individual expression that would better represent the American ideals of individual freedom and collective diversity.

Unbeknownst to Mainwaring, Michael Orelove — who lived in Alaska for many years — had already independently created a variant US flag for Alaska, ingeniously highlighting 8 of the 50 stars to form the big dipper.  He gave away this flag at the meeting as part of an ongoing effort to downsize his belongings.

We thank everyone who submitted designs and ideas for this challenge, providing plenty of evidence that there is lots of room for creativity and debate using the US flag as a starting point.

Gobitis

The US flag has a sad history of being used to compel patriotism.  One low point occurred in 1940 when the Supreme Court, in the throes of World War II, ruled in Minersville School District v. Gobitis that religious dissenters could be forced to salute the flag in the name of national unity (or, for example, be expelled from school).

Billy Gobitas' letter to the school board of Minersville, Pennsylvania
Billy Gobitas’ letter to the school board of Minersville, Pennsylvania. (Gobitis is a misspelling of the family’s name that is forever perpetuated in the domain of constitutional law.) From the Library of Congress.

With what was seen as the blessing of the Supreme Court, a wave of persecution was unleashed upon “traitorous” Jehovahs Witnesses, including arson and lynching.  (Ironically, they were accused of being Nazi sympathizers, despite the Nazis themselves sending hundreds of Witnesses to die in concentration camps.)

Three years later, the Supreme Court overruled its own decision, saying that forced speech was an infringement on free speech and that constitutional rights were “beyond the reach of majorities and officials” (West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnett).

To learn more, see:

Zaricor Flag Collection

The Zaricor Flag Collection (ZFC) is the result of decades of flag collecting by wealthy California businessman Ben Zaricor. Its curator, the vexillologist and former flag merchant Jim Ferrigan, writes:

The [ZFC], as the noted flag historian, the late Howard Madaus stated, is the largest most important representation of U.S. and American flags in the world. Containing many important foreign flags, the ZFC is more than a large accumulation; rather it is a dynamic working collection, used for research, exhibition and educational purposes.

In the ZFC are over 3,500 artifacts, divided into sub-collections containing:
– 900 United States flags,
– 600 Civil, State and maritime flags,
– 700 Foreign flags,
– 700 Flag related items: pins, jewelry, post cards, trapuntos & memorabilia,
– 200 Historic quilts, many patriotic with some containing or made with flags,
– 430 Reference books, pamphlets, posters, and photographs relating to flags.

Much of the collection is online, at www.flagcollection.com.  As Ferrigan mentioned above, portions of the collection are exhibited from time to time, at a variety of venues.  For example, attendees at the 24th International Congress of Vexillology of 2011 in Washington, DC were able to view a number of historically significant flags:

ICV 25 attendees admire flags from the ZFC.  Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
ICV 24 attendees admire flags from the ZFC. Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
LBJ's Vice Presidential standard, from the ZFC.  The design was used from 1948 to 1975.  Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
LBJ’s Vice Presidential Standard, from the ZFC. The design was used from 1948 to 1975. Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
One of the many highlights of the ZFC, a British Union Jack from the Battle of Trafalgar, the only one known to survive.  (Smaller flags to the side represent vexillological associations represented at the congress.) Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
One of the many highlights of the ZFC, a British Union Jack from the Battle of Trafalgar, the only one known to survive. (Smaller flags to the side represent vexillological associations represented at the congress.) Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
A 17-star, 17-stripe US flag from the War of 1812, exhibited by the ZFC.  Photo by Scott Mainwaring.
A 17-star, 17-stripe US flag from the War of 1812, exhibited by the ZFC. Photo by Scott Mainwaring.

A 2003 ZFC exhibit at San Francisco’s Presidio is the subject of this short video.

“A Private Tour depicts collector Ben Zaricor as he takes you on a tour of The American Flag Exhibit: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict exhibit in San Francisco’s Presidio in 2003. © 2003 The Flag Center.”

The ZFC was also involved in the production of an hour-long PBS documentary, also entitled The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict.  They sell DVDs of the program in their small online store.

Trailer for The American Flag: Two Centuries of Concord & Conflict™.  The producers, FILM POLICE!, write:

Specially made for PBS prime-time national broadcast, a one-hour television documentary including rare archival footage, images of actual historic flags, and stirring original music, this television special is based on the book by the noted scholars Howard Madaus and Dr. Whitney Smith. The program traces the history of the American experience through the stories of Revolutionary War battle flags, Civil War flags, Custer flags, Lincoln flags, 1876 Centennial flags, President Kennedys assassination limousine flags, 9/11 flags and many more. Some of these rare, priceless artifacts will be seen for the first time publicly in this program. Historians, flag collectors and prominent Americans include Norman Lear, filmmaker Harold Ramis, activist Tom Hayden; who share stories about the flag as art, flag history and flag collecting. Revolutionary and Civil War re-enactments help bring the story of the American flag to life. Flag stories include the origin of the Pledge of Allegiance, the Sothebys auction of rare revolutionary flags, and noted flag collectors Ben Zaricor, Louise Veninga, and Kit Hinrichs. This is the definitive television program about the untold history of the American flag.

Happy Birthday, 25 of America’s 28 Flags

According to the Flag Act of 1818, when new states are added to the union, corresponding stars are added to the flag on the following Fourth of July.  So July 4th is not just the birthday of the US, but also of the 25 flags it has used since 1818.  Here are some notable examples:

The 20-star flag, adopted 4 July 1818.  One of nine US flags that lasted only one year, this flag added 5 stars for Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee, and was replaced the following 4th of July by the 21-star flag recognizing Illinois statehood.  Before 1912 the arrangement of the stars was not specified, allowing beautiful designs like this Great Star to circulate.
The 20-star flag, adopted 4 July 1818, replacing the 15-star, 15-stripe “Star Spangled Banner” of Francis Scott Key fame. One of nine US flags that lasted only one year, this flag added five stars for Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee, and was replaced the following 4th of July by the 21-star flag recognizing Illinois statehood. Before 1912 the arrangement of the stars was not specified, allowing beautiful designs like this Great Star to circulate.
This is "Old Glory", the 23-star-plus-one-anchor, 10' x 17' flag given by the people of Salem, Massachusetts to Captain William Driver prior to his around-the-world trip commanding the brig Charles Doggett in 1831.  He exclaimed "I'll call her Old Glory, boys, Old Glory!".  Years later, in 1862, after keeping the flag safe in Nashville during the Civil War, Driver was given permission to raise his flag over the Tennessee state capitol, making Old Glory famous as the first US flag to fly over a former Confederate capitol.  (By 1862 the US flag had grown to 34 stars, but Driver was persuasive!)
This is “Old Glory“, the 23-star-plus-one-anchor, 10′ x 17′ flag given by the people of Salem, Massachusetts to Captain William Driver prior to his around-the-world trip commanding the brig Charles Doggett in 1831. Years later, in 1862, after keeping the flag safely hidden in Nashville during the Civil War, Driver was given permission by the Federal army to raise his flag over the capitol building, making Old Glory famous as the first US flag to fly over a former Confederate capitol. (By 1862 the US flag had grown to 34 stars, but Driver was persuasive!)
The 33-star flag adopted 4 July 1859, acknowledging the admission of the finest of the 50 states to the union.
The 33-star flag adopted 4 July 1859, acknowledging the admission of the finest of the 50 states to the union.
George C. Scott portraying General S. Patton at the beginning of the 1970 epic, Patton. The US fought both World Wars of the 20th century under this 48-star flag, adopted 4 July 1912 after the admission of Arizona and New Mexico.  This was the first US flag to have an officially mandated star pattern.
George C. Scott portraying General George S. Patton at the beginning of the 1970 epic, Patton. The US fought both World Wars of the 20th century under this 48-star flag, adopted 4 July 1912 after the admission of Arizona and New Mexico. This was the first US flag to have an officially-mandated star pattern.
The longest serving of the 28 US flag designs, this version is often taken for granted as "the" US flag.  It was adopted 4 July 1960 after the admission of Hawaii.
The longest serving of the 28 US flag designs, this, the current version, is often taken for granted as “the” one and only US flag. It was adopted 4 July 1960 after the admission of Hawaii, making it 55 years old today.  The star arrangement of two matrices, one within the other, makes clever use of this arithmetic: 50 = 30 (the outer matrix: 5 rows of 6 stars) + 20 (the inner matrix: 4 rows of 5 stars).

The US Flag in the 21st Century

31 October 2000

The Stankonia flag, by OutKast.
The Stankonia flag, by Outkast.

American hip hop duo Outkast release their fouth studio album, Stankonia.  The iconic album cover consists of Big Boi and André 3000 posing in front of a huge, black-and-white US flag with inverted stars: the funkified flag of Stankonia (which actually was manufactured and hung on the wall in their Atlanta studios).  (For more, see our blog posting Outkast’s Stankonia flag.)


11 September 2001

My daughter, who goes to Stuyvesant High School only blocks from the World Trade Center, thinks we should fly an American flag out our window. Definitely not, I say: The flag stands for jingoism and vengeance and war. She tells me I’m wrong–the flag means standing together and honoring the dead and saying no to terrorism. In a way we’re both right: The Stars and Stripes is the only available symbol right now. In New York City, it decorates taxicabs driven by Indians and Pakistanis, the impromptu memorials of candles and flowers that have sprung up in front of every firehouse, the chi-chi art galleries and boutiques of SoHo. It has to bear a wide range of meanings, from simple, dignified sorrow to the violent anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry that has already resulted in murder, vandalism and arson around the country and harassment on New York City streets and campuses. It seems impossible to explain to a 13-year-old, for whom the war in Vietnam might as well be the War of Jenkins’s Ear, the connection between waving the flag and bombing ordinary people half a world away back to the proverbial stone age. I tell her she can buy a flag with her own money and fly it out her bedroom window, because that’s hers, but the living room is off-limits.  (The opening of Put Out No Flags by Katha Pollitt.)

Following the shock of the 9/11 terrorist attacks the popularity of the flag surges and social pressure to display it builds.  Feminist critic Katha Pollitt captures the moment in her controversial essay “Put Out No Flags” published in The Nation a month following the attacks.


31 May 2002

The so-called First Navy Jack.  Flag scholar Peter Ansoff has demonstrated that it "was a 19th-century mistake based on an erroneous 1776 engraving".
The so-called First Navy Jack. Flag scholar Peter Ansoff has demonstrated that it “was a 19th-century mistake based on an erroneous 1776 engraving”.

The Navy directs its ships to substitute the so-called First Navy Jack for the US jack  “during the Global War on Terrorism“.  As of today, still no end in sight.


4 July 2007

Nukolz the dog received more press attention on 7/4/07 than the 50-star flag's surpassing any other version.  (Nukolz placed 2nd in the patriotism category in the annual Yankee Doodle Doggie Show in Anaheim Hills, CA.)
Nukolz the dog received more press attention on 7/4/07 than the 50-star flag’s surpassing any other version. (Nukolz placed 2nd in the patriotism category in the annual Yankee Doodle Doggie Show in Anaheim Hills, CA.)

Current 50-star flag surpasses the 48-star flag as the longest-used version of the flag.  No one notices.


4 July 2010

Golden Jubilee Flag, designed by Ed Mooney.
Golden Jubilee Flag, designed by Ed Mooney.  Peter Orenski created, manufactured, and sold his own version, in which 26 gold stars form the number 50 within a rectangular border of 24 white stars.

Current 50-star flag celebrates its Golden Jubilee 50th anniversary.  Again, no one notices, but vexillologist  Peter Orenski notices that no one notices in his paper Unpledged Allegiance: Golden Jubilee of the 50-Star flag.  From the abstract: This anniversary was greeted with a colossal yawn not only by a great majority of ordinary Americans, but also by most flag enthusiasts, flag manufacturers, patriotic organizations, schools, veterans groups, government agencies and news media. Question: Why did a country so conscious about its flag allow this anniversary to pass practically unobserved? This paper presents a range of possible answers, some based on historical perspectives, others on interviews with news outlets, veterans, school teachers, flag-involved individuals and organizations.


22 July 2014

One of two enormous, custom-made, all-white US flags flying above the Brooklyn Bridge.
One of two enormous, custom-made, all-white US flags flying above the Brooklyn Bridge.

Sometime after midnight German artists Matthias Wermke and Mischa Leinkauf evade police surveillance to replace each 10-by-19-foot U.S. flag atop both towers of the Brooklyn Bridge with all-white versions of their own making.  Though seriously freaking out the guardians of the bridge tasked with protecting it from terrorism, it turned out to be an extension of the artists’ “interventions and performances” in urban public space, “to question common standards and show the beauty beyond these standards”.  In their Brooklyn Bridge project, Wermke and Leinkauf manage to defamiliarize the US flag and make us wonder at its continuing power.  (See our blog posting, White Flags, for more on de-coloring the US flag as an artistic tactic.)

The US Flag in the 20th Century (2nd half)

19 September 1952

George Reeves as Superman, and the US flag as... itself.
George Reeves as Superman, and the US flag as… itself.

The Adventures of Superman begins airing on American television, following an undocumented alien immigrant as he fights “the never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way”.  The famous opening sequence ends with George Reeves standing before a US flag, somehow briskly flying in outer space.  In less than 20 years, fiction will become reality, insofar as the flag is concerned.


14 June 1954

Flag.  Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels.  By Jasper Johns, 1954-55.
Flag. Encaustic, oil, and collage on fabric mounted on plywood, three panels. By Jasper Johns, 1954-55.

To heed off “godless Communism” President Eisenhower adds the controversial words Under God to the Pledge of Allegiance (though no one knows what they mean exactly).  Senator Joe McCarthy ends his hearings on Communist infiltration of the US Army and State Department three days later. In this period of American cultural turbulence, 24 year-old Jasper Johns begins work on his dream-inspired, multi-layered encaustic masterpiece Flagthe first of his many variations on this theme.


4 July 1960

The Age of the 50-star US flag begins.  The star pattern cleverly embeds a 5 x 4 grid within a 6 x 5 grid: 20 + 30 = 50!
The Age of the 50-star US flag begins. The star pattern cleverly embeds a 5 x 4 grid within a 6 x 5 grid: 20 + 30 = 50!

Current 50-star flag adopted, recognizing Hawaiian statehood.  (It replaces a short-lived, and seldom manufactured, 49-star version from the year before.)


12 June 1963

Civil rights activists march from Selma to Montgomery, AL in 1965.
Civil rights activists march from Selma to Montgomery, AL in 1965.

On Flag Day, Civil rights leader Medgar Evers is assassinated in Jackson, MS.  As Woden Teachout explains in Capture the Flag: A Political History of American Patriotism, by the late 1950s segregationists had for the most part abandoned the US flag — a symbol of Federally-imposed desegregation — in favor of the Confederate, and young people in the civil rights movement had opportunistically reclaimed the Stars and Stripes as their own; Evers was instrumental in furthering the flag’s adoption both as a symbol and as a protest tactic (signs could be easily ripped out of hands, but images of police ripping away flags conveyed protesters’ message quite powerfully).


3 October 1968

Abby Hoffman arrested on the way to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Abby Hoffman arrested on his way to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Theatrical “Yippie” activist Abby Hoffman is arrested and charged that he “knowingly cast contempt upon the flag of the United States by publicly mutilating, defacing and defiling it” for wearing a shirt with a flag motif with satirical political buttons pinned to it.  Three months earlier Congress had for the first time passed a Federal law against flag “desecration”, in response to popular outrage over several flag-burnings in political protests against the Vietnam war.  Hoffman v. United States is the first case to be tried against the new law.  Hoffman takes advantage of this historic moment by telling the judge, Your honor, I regret that I have but one shirt to give for my country.


20 July 1969

Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin salutes the Apollo 11 flag.
Lunar Module Pilot Buzz Aldrin salutes the Apollo 11 flag.  (Photo, presumably, by N. Armstrong.)

Neil Armstrong places the US flag on the Moon.  Lest this apparently imperialistic act be misunderstood, a plaque on the Eagle‘s ladder clarifies we came in peace for all mankind.  That the US had beaten the USSR in this Cold War race to the Moon needed no clarification beyond the flag.


2 April 1970

20th Century Fox releases Patton, starring George C. Scott as controversial World War 2 General George C. Patton.  The film, which won seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, opens in an unforgettable fashion with the general, in front of a huge 48-star flag, addressing unseen troops in a monologue based on his speech to the Third Army.


5 April 1976

The Soiling of Old Glory.
The Soiling of Old Glory.

Photojournalist Stanley Forman captures lawyer and civil rights activist Ted Landsmark being attacked with the flag during an anti-desegregation protest outside Boston City Hall.  Louis Masur’s 2008 book The Soiling of Old Glory: The Story of a Photograph That Shocked America unpacks its many layers of meaning.


22 March 1980

The Great American Flag at its unveiling at the Evansville, IN airport.
The Great American Flag at its unveiling at the Evansville, IN airport.

Len Silverfine‘s 7-ton, 210-by-411 foot “Great American Flag” is unveiled before 10,000 onlookers at the Evansville, IN airport.  It’s never been hung from the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, as originally engineered, but has made 12 appearances, including two Flag Days at the Washington Monument (1980 and 1991) and at the Flight 93 crash site on 24 September 2001.


1984 August 22

Gregory Lee Johnson (2nd from right) and his lawyer William Kunstler (on right) before the Supreme Court.
Gregory Lee Johnson (2nd from right) and his lawyer William Kunstler (on right) before the Supreme Court.

Gregory “Joey” Johnson, a member of the US Revolutionary Communist Party, burns the flag at a political demonstration at Dallas City Hall during the 1984 Republican National Convention.  He is arrested, charged with, and convicted of the crime of “desecration of a venerated object” under a Texas penal code.  He appeals the conviction all the way to the US Supreme Court, which in 1989 rules in his favor in Texas v. Johnson, finding his act to be symbolic speech protected the the First Amendment.


1988-1990

What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?  An
What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag? An “installation for audience participation” by activist artist Dread Scott. Its display at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1989 became a national controversy.

Obligatory patriotism becomes a highly politicized national issue. In the 1988 presidential election, George H. W. Bush attacked his opponent Gov. Michael Dukakis’ 1977 veto of a Massachusetts law that would have required teachers begin each school day by leading students in the Pledge of Allegiance. As President, in 1989 Bush calls Dread Scott’s installation in Chicago “disgraceful”.  The anti-flag protection decision Texas v. Johnson is announced in June. Less than a month later an outraged Congress passes a Flag Protection Act targeting, regardless of motive: whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States.  Outraged, in turn, by this law — one that was specifically worded to outlaw his art — Dread Scott and three others burn flags on the US Capitol steps, and are arrested and charged with violating it.  Their case, United States v. Eichman, is appealed to the Supreme Court which strikes down the 1989 Act, finding the government’s intent, despite claims to the contrary, to be to prohibit that same forms of symbolic speech the court had just ruled in Johnson were protected under the First Amendment.  Following the Eichman ruling, general public interest peters out, as a predicted wave of flag burnings and underfoot tramplings fails to happen.

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.

The US Flag in the 19th Century

14 September 1814

By Dawn's Early Light.  Painting by Edward Moran, 1912.
By Dawn’s Early Light. Painting by Edward Moran, 1912.

Aboard the HMS Tonnant, at “dawn’s early light” attorney Francis Scott Key sees a large US flag still flying over Fort McHenry despite its overnight bombardment during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.  He publishes his poem “Defence of Fort M’Henry” in the American and Commercial Daily Advertiser seven days later.  Both the poem/lyrics and the Fort McHenry flag will later become known as the Star-Spangled Banner.


4 April 1818

Michael Orelove and his 50-star, 50-stripe US flag.
PFA member Michael Orelove and his 50-star, 50-stripe US flag – one reason to be thankful for the Third Flag Act.

The Third Flag Act (still in effect) returns the number of stripes to 13, and specifies: That on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.


1861-1865

Victory parade, New York City, March 1865.  From Harper's Weekly, 3/25/1865.
Victory parade, New York City, March 1865. From Harper’s Weekly, 3/25/1865.

The Civil War prompts, for the first time, widespread civilian adoption (in the Union states) of the flag.  Prior to the war, the flag and its depiction were seldom seen apart from military and federal contexts.


7 June 1862

Mumford monument in Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans.
Mumford monument in Greenwood Cemetery, New Orleans.

William Bruce Mumford becomes the only person to be executed for desecrating the US flag, after removing the flag Union soldiers had placed on the New Orleans mint and dragging it through the street.  Occupying General Benjamin Butler vowed to punish him “in such a manner as… will caution both the perpetrators and abettors of the act, so that they will fear the stripes, if they do not reverence the stars of our banner”.


1872

The first known photograph of the Ft. McHenry flag, taken by Preble in 1873 at the Boston Navy Yard.
The first known photograph of the Ft. McHenry flag, taken by Preble in 1873 at the Boston Navy Yard.

George Henry Preble (1816 – 1885) publishes his Origin and History of the American Flag.


8 September 1892

Performing the Bellamy Salute during the Pledge.
Performing the Bellamy Salute during the Pledge.

Francis Bellamy publishes his Pledge of Allegiance  in a children’s magazine, The Youth’s Companion, as part of a campaign to promote nationalism in and sell flags to public schools.  It originally read: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.  


17 February 1897

Where The Blame Lies. Judge (to Uncle Sam)--"If Immigration was properly Restricted you would no longer be troubled with Anarchy, Socialism, the Mafia and such kindred evils!" 1891
Where The Blame Lies. Judge (to Uncle Sam)–“If Immigration was properly Restricted you would no longer be troubled with Anarchy, Socialism, the Mafia and such kindred evils!” (Cartoon in Judge magazine, 4/4/1891, by Grant E. Hamilton)

The American Flag Association is organized to promote “the fostering of public sentiment in favor of honoring the flag of our country, and preserving it from desecration, and of initiating and forwarding legal measures to prevent such desecration”. Bellamy’s Pledge and the AFA are part of a larger flag protection movement that arose in the 1890s based in fears of immigrants as less than loyal or true Americans, and associated political dissent by “radicals” and “subversives”.

The US Flag in the 18th Century

1 May 1707

Flag of the Kingdom of Great Britain, 1707-1801.
Flag of the Kingdom of Great Britain, 1707-1801.

The Acts of Union take effect, creating the Kingdom of Great Britain and the making the red, white, and blue King’s Colors its flag. This flag and its Red Ensign variant were influential in American flag-making.


21 September 1737

Francis Hopkinson as depicted in Oberholtzer's The Literary History of Philadelphia (1906).
Francis Hopkinson as depicted in Oberholtzer’s The Literary History of Philadelphia (1906).

American civil servant and likely designer of the 13-star flag Francis Hopkinson born in Philadelphia.  He famously requested payment in wine from the Continental Congress for designing the US flag, Great Seal, currency, and other symbols — but never received it.


1 January 1752

Late 19th century depiction of Betsy Ross, 1752-1836.
Late 19th century depiction of Betsy Ross, 1752-1836.

Elizabeth Phoebe Griscom born in West Jersey, PA.  Not until the Centennial year 1876, 40 years after her death, would she become the American folk hero Betsy Ross.


3 December 1775

The USS Alfred.  Painting by Harry W. Carpenter (1920).
The USS Alfred. Painting by Harry W. Carpenter (1920).

The Continental Colors – a British red ensign with six white stripes added to form the familiar 13 red and white stripes of the US flag – is first hoisted on the USS Alfred at Philadelphia by John Paul Jones.


1 January 1776

The Continental Colors or "Grand Union" flag.
The Continental Colors or “Grand Union” flag.

According to traditional accounts, the Continental Colors are raised on Prospect Hill near Cambridge, MA by Washington’s army as it lay siege to British-occupied Boston. British military observers interpret it as a sign of surrender.  What flag or flags were actually raised that day is a subject of debate — see Ansoff (2006), DeLear (2014), Ansoff (2014).


14 June 1777

Very early 13-star flag in the Zaricor collection.
Very early 13-star flag in the Zaricor collection.

Second Continental Congress passes the First Flag Act: Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.


13 January 1794

The Second Flag Act.
The Second Flag Act.

Washington signs the Second Flag Act, changing the flag to 15 stars and 15 stripes, to acknowledge the new states of Vermont and Kentucky.