The History of the Flag
Flag Day is coming up Thursday, June 14th. In honor of this day of recognition, we’re taking a look at the history of flags, from the first primitive indicators to the formal organization of the stars and stripes.
Flags have been used for at least 4,000 years. Even the most primitive flags were used to deliver a message: defining property, giving a warning or distinguishing friend from enemy. The first flags uncovered by historians were metal or wooden poles that feature a distinctive carving at the top. These are also known as “vexiloids”. The first metal flag on record dates back to 3,000 BC and came from Iran. Egyptian tomb carvings and Greek coins also show evidence of flag use. Approximately 2,000 years ago people began to decorate vexiloids with fabrics, making them look more similar to modern flags.
Today every country in the world has its own custom flag. The majority feature the country’s official colors and symbols. Many countries, including the Unites States, also have distinctive regional and state flags. There is no definite record of the origin of the United States flag. Historians think the first flag was designed by either Congressman Francis Hopkinson or Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross. On June 14, 1777 the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act. It stated:
"Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."
It wasn’t until President Taft’s Executive Order of June 24, 1912 that the order of the stars and stripes and the proportions of the flag were prescribed. Prior to that features were left to the discretion of the flag maker. In 1959 after the addition of Hawaii as the 50th state President Eisenhower issued another Executive Order providing for the arrangement of the stars in nine rows of stars staggered horizon tally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically.
The idea of celebrating June 14 as “Flag Day” was likely originated in 1885 by schoolteacher BJ Cigrand. He arranged for his students in Fredonia, Wisconsin to observe the anniversary of the passage of the Flag Act. Over the years Cigrand petitioned for the celebration of what he called “Flag Birthday” in many magazine and newspaper articles. The day caught on and was unofficially celebrated for many years until President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th as National Flag Day.
From decorated sticks to elaborate designs, flags have come a long way. Now that you understand the history of flags, why not learn the history of banners?