On that historic day, the flag of the United States of America came into existence and this form remains unchanged to the present day.
Just who designed the first flag or who made it is a question still debated by historians. Some believe that Betsy Ross designed the first flag, although claims have also been made that Francis Hopkinson, a Congressman, designed and made the first flag.
Historical records do show that Betsy Ross made flags for the government in 1777, but whether she made the first United States flag will probably always remain in doubt. In 1782, the Congress of the confederation reaffirmed the choice of the Continental Congress by stating that the national seal and the flag would remain red, white and blue.
Deeper meaning was also given to the flag and its design. The thirteen original states would always be represented by the seven red stripes and the six white ones. However, they left open the question of how the stars on the blue union would be arranged. In 1777, Congress had not specified any particular design for the arrangement of the stars and some flags had thirteen stars in a circle.
Others had twelve in a circle with the thirteenth in the center. By 1782 though, almost all the national flags had the thirteen stars in a circle. In 1794, Vermont and Kentucky were admitted to the Union bringing the number of states to fifteen. Congress ordered that all new flags would carry fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, and that a star and a stripe would be added as each new state joined the Union. This would later prove to be too cumbersome and would soon be abandoned.
This flag, with its fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, is the flag Americans carried in the War of 1812. By 1817, The Union was expanded by five more states: Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana and Mississippi. This expansion meant a new flag. Samuel C. Reid, a navy captain, redesigned the flag using the original thirteen stripes and adding a star for each of the twenty states. This idea was proposed to Congress by Peter Wendover, a representative from New York. It was passed as the New Flag Act, and the date was set as July 4th next after a new state had been admitted to the Union as the day on which a new flag would be flown. Congress again left open the question of how the stars might be arranged, so the design was left to individual flag makers.
In later years, the President has usually proclaimed how the stars would be arranged and all flags must agree with the Presidential proclamation. New states were constantly being admitted to the Union and the United States had thirteen national flags between 1817 and 1861. During the Civil War, we had another two flags with the admission of Kansas and West Virginia. Union troops fought under a 33-star flag during the first three months of the war; a 34-star flag until 1863; and a 35-star flag until the end of the war. President Lincoln refused to take out the stars of the southern states which had seceded. After the war had ended, the nation began to move west. Nebraska joined the Union in 1867; followed in 1877 by Colorado; 1890 by North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington and Idaho; 1891 by Wyoming; 1896 by Utah; and 1908 by Oklahoma.
During this period of transition in the country, we had six more national flags. The twenty-third flag, adopted in 1896, was the flag that we fought under during the Spanish-American War in 1898. In 1912, Arizona and New Mexico were admitted to the Union and thus the United States needed another new flag. This was the twenty-fifth flag, adopted in 1912, and which lasted until 1959. The total of 47 years that this flag flew over the nation represents the longest period of duration of any one flag of the United States. This flag was carried to the battlefields of World War I and World War II, as well as the Korean War.
In 1959, Alaska was admitted as the 49th state of the Union. The 49-star flag, adopted in 1959, was raised at 12:01 a.m. on July 4th, 1959, over Ft. McHenry to signal the official admittance of Alaska. This flag lasted but a short while for on July 4th, 1960, the United States raised the present 50-star flag signaling the admission of Hawaii as our 50th and last state. To date, we have had twenty-seven national flags, and they have all flown in glory over this great nation, the United States.
27 Flags of the United States
1st US Flag 1777-1795
The Betsy Ross Flag. To this day, the actual maker of this flag remains unknown. This almost casually constructed national emblem incorporated the unchanging design of thirteen stripes with a thirteen-star union. Although this claim is seriously in doubt, Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, is said to have made the first American flag.
This claim was first made by William J. Canby, her grandson, in 1870. His claim is based on the signed statements of several persons, including Betsy Ross’ daughters, nieces and granddaughters. Historical records do show that she made flags for the government in 1777, but there is no proof she made the first flag. The second claim as the maker of the first flag was by Congressman Francis Hopkinson.
Shortly after the adoption of the first flag by Congress in 1777, Hopkinson came forward and asserted that he was the maker of the original flag. This claim is unsubstantiated by historical records, and so the real maker of the flag will probably always remain in doubt. It’s unfortunate, for this design has remained unchanged for almost 200 years.
2nd US Flag 1795-1818
In 1791, Vermont was admitted to the Union and the following year Kentucky was also admitted. By 1974, it became apparent to Congress that the country needed a new flag. Congress decided to change the basic structure of the flag and add not only two more stars, but two more stripes. The 15-stripe flag was ordered flown after May 1, 1795. This 15-star flag was flown during the War of 1812 and during the United States’ war with the Barbary States.
It was this flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the “Star-Spangled Banner.” It also inspired a heated debate in the Congress over the change from 13 to 15 stripes in the banner. Between 1795 and 1818, five new states were admitted to the Union and a new flag was needed. A navy captain redesigned the flag and returned to the 13 original stripes, but added a star for each new state. Finally, the idea was accepted by Congress because it was easier to change the stars than the stripes. Congress adopted this idea and also stipulated that on the July 4th following the admission of a new state; a new star would be flown in the flag to represent the state.
3rd US Flag in 1818
Our third flag saw a return to tradition as Congress decided to return to the thirteen stripes, but to add a star as each new state joined the Union. Designed by navy captain Samuel Reid, this flag was proposed to Congress on April 4, 1818, and changed back to thirteen stripes. This flag had 20 stars and became official July 4, 1818. This flag is also called the “Great Star Flag” because the 20 stars were sometimes arranged to form a star.
4th US Flag in 1819
The 21st star in the flag represented the admission of the state of Illinois on December 3, 1818. The Northwest Territory was rapidly becoming settled and four new states would be carved out of this section of the country. 1818 was also the year that the United States-Canada boundary dispute was settled, making it the longest open border in the world.
5th US Flag in 1820
The hot issue of the day was whether the nation could keep the balance between free and slave states. Alabama was admitted in 1819, giving the country an equal number of both. But in 1820, Maine was admitted as a free state, thus tipping the numbers in favor of the free states. In 1820, our fifth flag appeared with 23 stars in the Union.
6th US Flag in 1822
The Missouri Compromise of 1820 would settle the question of slaves states versus free for 30 years. No state would be admitted to the Union as a slave state above the line 36°-30′ in the new Louisiana Purchase. Another tenet of the Compromise was that Missouri would be admitted as the 24th state and takes its place alongside the slave states.
7th US Flag in 1836
During the last months of President Andrew Jackson’s administration, Arkansas was admitted to the Union as the 25th state. On July 4, 1836, a new flag was flown over the country bearing 25 stars. In the same year, Texas became an independent nation.
8th US Flag in 1837
Michigan, since the days of the Revolutionary War, had been a favorite spot for fur trappers and traders. The Erie Canal, recently opened, allowed travelers and pioneers to move from Albany, New York to Lake Erie. This massive wave of pioneers brought about a growth in Michigan that enabled it to be admitted as the 26th state. In addition, Michigan was given the Upper Peninsula for giving up land claims in Ohio.
9th US Flag in 1845
Florida was admitted to the Union as the 27th state in 1845, completed the present Atlantic seaboard of the United States. Florida had been purchased from Spain in 1819 after having been a part of the Spanish Empire for 300 years. The southern expansion of the United States was now complete and the nation turned its attention to pushing back western frontiers.
10th US Flag in 1846
Texas had once been an integral part of the Spanish domain on the North American continent. Spain controlled Texas for nearly 300 years until 1821. In 1836, Texas declared its independence from Mexico and became an independent nation. In 1845, President James K. Polk admitted Texas as the 28th state. This action directly led to war with Mexico and thus fixed the southern boundary of Texas as the Rio Grande.
11th US Flag in 1847
In late 1846, the Midwest gave birth to another state – Iowa. Once a part of the Louisiana Purchase, Iowa was admitted to the Union as a free state to become the first free state to come from that purchase. An uprising by the Sioux Indian Nation plagued Iowans during their early years of statehood.
12th US Flag in 1848
Wisconsin preserved the balance that was precariously being kept between free and slave states when admitted to the Union in 1848. There were 15 free and 15 slave states in 1848. During the drive for statehood, the Ripon Convention was held, later to be claimed as the beginnings of the Republican Party.
13th US Flag in 1851
In 1848, the discovery of gold in the American River at Sutter’s Mill, CA, touched off the “Gold Rush” of 1849. This set into motion a tide of settlers. Previously in 1846, a small group of Americans had proclaimed California independent from Mexico. The need for immediate government organization led to the admission of California as the 31st state in 1850.
14th US Flag in 1858
In 1851, by the Treaty of Mendota, the Indians gave up all claims to land in Minnesota and throngs of settlers swarmed into the territory. There were enough people in the state to grant admission to the Union and Minnesota became our 32nd state on May 11th of that year.
15th US Flag in 1859
During James K. Polk’s presidential campaign, the issue was the Oregon Territory. “Fifty-four forty or Fight” was the slogan. Statehood for Oregon would mean the consolidation of the Pacific coastline as members of the United States. In 1859, Oregon became the 33rd state in the Union. Our 15th flag was raised that year.
16th US Flag in 1861
January 29, 1861, Kansas was admitted to the Union as the 34th state. Kansas had been a state for less than three months when the nation went to war. On April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries opened fire on Ft. Sumter and four years of a bitter civil war battle were fought. This flag was carried into battle by Union troops until 1863. It carried 34 stars.
17th US Flag in 1863
As Virginia decided to throw its lot in with the new Confederacy, several northwestern counties of the state decided to remain loyal to the Union. The result was the formation of a new state, West Virginia, marking the first time a new state has resulted from a rebellion against the original state. This fledgling was admitted as the 35th state, June 20, 1863.
18th US Flag in 1865
The Confederate States of America were in their last hours when Nevada was admitted to the Union as the 36th state. Because the war was ending with the victory of the Union, little jubilation went up for the admittance of Nevada. Little notice was paid to the fact that this flag bore 36 stars when it was raised in 1865.
19th US Flag in 1867
Nebraska applied for admission into the nation as the Reconstruction era opened in American history. A bitter struggle developed between President Andrew Johnson and Congress. President Johnson vetoed the bill making Nebraska the 37th state, but Congress overrode the veto. Nebraska became the 37th state in 1867 and the 37th star on our flag.
20th US Flag in 1877
Gold was discovered in the Colorado Territory in 1858 bringing in thousands of new settlers. Hostile Indians and the extremely hard terrain of the country did not deter the new pioneers. With them, they brought the determination to become a state and in 1876, Colorado was admitted as the 38th state.
21st US Flag in 1890
With the admission of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington and Idaho in 1889-90, five new stars were added to our flag. These states were the last of the Northwest Territories to become states and completed the expansion of the country along the Canadian border. Completion of railroads speeded the growth of these states.
22nd US Flag in 1891
The twenty-first flag was obsolete six days after it was raised. On July 10, 1890, Wyoming was admitted to the Union as the 44th state. Wyoming had become a territory in 1845 when Texas was annexed to the United States and relinquished its claim to this area. On July 4th, 1891, the twenty-second flag was raised with 44 stars.
23rd US Flag in 1896
Utah became a territory of the United States in 1848. Its first constitution was established in 1849 as the Mormon state of the Deseret. Congress changed the name to Utah in 1850, and a running argument began between Utah and the U.S. Congress over the question of polygamy. In 1890, the Mormon Church outlawed this practice and in 1896, Utah became the 45th state.
24th US Flag in 1908
The Indian Territory of Oklahoma was opened to settlers in 1889 and resulted in the first Oklahoma land run. Thousands of settlers, farmers, ranchers and pioneers rushed into the new territory to begin a new life. This migration resulted in the admission of Oklahoma to the Union on November 16, 1907, as the 46th state.
25th US Flag in 1912
In 1912, New Mexico and Arizona were the 47th and 48th continental states admitted into the union. The 48-star flag came into existence in that year and lasted for 47 years, longer than any other US flag. Under this banner we fought World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
26th US Flag in 1959
On July 7, 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill making Alaska the 49th state of the Union. The admission of Alaska marked the first time a state had been admitted that had not been in the continental United States. Secretary of State William Seward purchased Alaska from Russia for $7 million, or two cents an acre. Alaska became the 49th star.
27th US Flag in 1960
At Hawaii’s request in 1898, Hawaii was annexed by the United States. In 1903, the territorial legislature petitioned Congress for admission to the Union, but was denied. Not much was thought of Hawaii until the bombing of Pearl Harbor when Americans realized what an integral part of the U.S. Hawaii was. On March 18, 1959, Hawaii became our 50th state and the last star in the flag.
Respect for the Flag
o The flag should always be carried upright, aloft and free.
o The flag should be displayed high above and free of anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water or merchandise.
o The flag should always be allowed to fall freely. Use bunting – not the U.S. flag – to drape, festoon, draw back or hang in folds as decoration. Bunting of blue, white and red – always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle and the red below – should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform and so on.
o The flag should be treated with respect. Protect it from being easily torn, soiled or damaged in any way when fastening, displaying or storing it.
o All parts of the flag should be kept completely free of markings, insignias, letters, words, figures, designs, pictures or drawings of any nature not inherent in its creation.
o The flag should not be used as an informal covering for a ceiling.
What the Flag means A flag, an inanimate object made of stitched cloth, means as much as people will let it mean to them. Through two centuries of American heritage, our national flag has come to stand for the people, the ideas, the government, and national honor and glory of the United States. Our flag has endured through many years of hardship and toil. It is known and respected throughout the world. It has come to be the beacon of democracy, freedom, liberty and justice, and it is to this banner the countless millions came from all over the world in their search for political and religious freedom. Perhaps the modern American has come to take for granted the proud Stars and Stripes. Perhaps the notion that our flag means nothing more than mom’s apple pie and the Fourth of July picnic has been allowed to live too long. Let us not forget that this flag was born of blood and has been preserved by blood. This flag is the symbol of liberty and the cost of liberty is dear indeed.