When asked, many Americans can’t name the original thirteen colonies, but shouldn’t they know the history behind the US flag? Nearly everyone refers to the flag as the Stars and Stripes, but how was this combination of colors and shapes put together? The explanation that most learn in elementary school is that Betsy Ross created the original design for the US flag. This isn’t entirely accurate, however, as others around the time had created similar designs. Essentially, current US flags display thirteen stripes in alternating red and white for the original thirteen colonies and the stars, on a field of blue, are for the current fifty states. As the US flag has reflected changes in the number of states throughout American history, the design of the flag has changed as a result.
Although no design was established as the original flag, Betsy Ross is credited as creating the first. Other US flags by Francis Hopkinson, Cowpens, and Brandywine appeared at the same time. Hopkinson’s flag design is similar to Ross’s and dates earlier, but the stars are in a linear formation rather than circular. In addition the colonies during the Revolutionary War seemed to develop their own US flags based on this stars and stripes formation with a red, white, and blue color scheme.
By the time the colonies had become states, the flag design was official, but, as anyone knows, the number of states didn’t stay at thirteen, and soon after American independence, Vermont and Kentucky became states. When these two states were added to the Union, the flag reflected these changes, and all US flags, at the time, had fifteen stars and stripes to reflect these changes. When these two states were added in 1818, US Naval Captain Samuel Reid proposed the new flag design to Congress, and the idea passed.
But, as the United States moved westward and territories in the northwest – now the Midwest – became states like Ohio and Illinois, the US flag design reverted back to the thirteen stripes design and changed the stars on the number of states. But since the passing of Reid’s design in 1818, new stars were added every July 4th to reflect new states added to the Union. While this often meant one or two stars added each year, some larger-than-average years included 1818, in which five new stars representing the new states of Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee, were added and 1890, with stars added for new states Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington.
The longest design for a US flag has been our current design, which has been in effect since 1960. The last state was added in 1959, and, accordingly, the US flag was updated by July 4, 1960. Although US flags have changed over the years, they all reflect the current Union in the stars and the original Union in 1776, or, more appropriately, the thirteen colonies.