June 14, 2015 is Flag Day, dedicated to celebrating the adoption of the American flag by the Second Continental Congress in 1777. It has been celebrated annually on June 14 since 1916, when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the holiday. Over 30 years later, National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress in 1949. However, it is still not recognized as an official Federal Holiday and must be recognized by the President every year.
Read on to find out more about the history of the American flag and Flag Day:
1. The American Flag Has Been Officially Changed 26-Times Since 1777
After the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, the Continental Congress did not legally adopt the earliest version of the modern American flag. They were still using the first American flag, known as both the “the Continental Colors” or the “the Grand Union Flag.” The first American flag consisted of the British “King’s Colors” flag, or “Great Union Flag”, of 1606 wedged into the left-hand corner alongside the still present thirteen red-and-white stripes. Notice that the Great Union Flag is also not the United Kingdom’s modern flag because it lacks St Patrick’s Cross. Ireland was not integrated into the U.K. until 1801.
On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which established the earliest incarnation of our modern American flag with stars and stripes. According to the Journals of the Continental:
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.
2. Betsy Ross Didn’t Design It
Betsy Ross, born Elizabeth Phoebe Griscom, is widely credited with making the first modern American flag in 1776. Folklore states it occurred after General George Washington visited her home at 239 Arch Street in Philadelphia. Ross was the wife of John Ross, a member of the Pennsylvania Provincial Militia. John was killed in the early stages of the war. What is known is that Betsy Ross worked in upholstery and helped war efforts by making tents and blankets.
The story of Ross and her presenting the American flag to Washington after he gave her a sketch of what he wanted didn’t become part of “history” until 1876 at Centennial celebrations of the American Revolution. Around that year Ross’s grandson, William J. Canby, wrote a research paper for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania claiming that his grandmother had made the first American flag. He wrote:
According to a well sustained tradition in the family of Elizabeth Claypoole (the Elizabeth Ross) this lady is the one to whom belongs the honor of having made with her own hands the first flag. Three of her daughters are still living who confirm this statement, not from their own knowledge, for the flag was made before they were born, but from the recollection of their mother’s often repeated narration and from hearing it told by others who were cognizant of the facts during their childhood; and there is also yet living a niece of Mrs Claypoole’s, Mrs Margaret Boggs (now in her 95th year) who resides with a niece in Germantown, Philadelphia, and still has full possession of all her faculties, who remembers well the incidents of the transaction as she heard it told, in her intimate intercourse with the family many times.
3. Francis Hopkinson Designed It
The real designer of the American flag was Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey. Hopkinson was the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department and also designed a flag for them around 1777, too.
Hopkinson was the only person to make the claim of inventing the American flag in his lifetime until the Betsy Ross apocrypha surfaced a hundred years later. Substantiating Hopkinson’s claims are preserved bills he sent to Congress for his work. According to the United States Flag Organization:
Apparently acting on a request from Congress, Hopkinson sent a detailed bill on June 6th, and it was sent to the auditor general, James Milligan. He sent it to the commissioners of the Chamber of Accounts, who replied six days later on June 12th that they were of the opinion that the charges were reasonable and ought to be paid.
4. They Added Stars
The original American flag had thirteen stripes and thirteen stars. However, the idea to add stars every time a new state entered the union wasn’t the original. It first occurred in 1795 with the entry of Vermont and Kentucky into the Republic, but the idea didn’t strike Congress until April 4, 1818.
According to a PDF by a Joint Congressional Committee on the American flag, U.S. Naval Captain Samuel C. Reid suggested to Congress to add stars every time a new state entered the union. The last time a star was added to the American flag was in 1960 when Hawaii joined the union.
5. Will There Be a 51st State?
The most viable option for a 51st state is Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico was was ceded to the United States in 1898 following a Spanish defeat in the Spanish-American war. It was granted a Commonwealth status and Puerto Ricans were granted citizenship in 1917.
Various movements to grant Puerto Rico statehood have taken place over the years, the most recent of which took place in 2012. A White House report on Puerto Rico’s status writes:
If efforts on the Island do not provide a clear result in the short term, the President should support, and Congress should enact, self-executing legislation that specifies in advance for the people of Puerto Rico a set of acceptable status options, including the Statehood, that the United States is politically committed to fulfilling. This legislation should commit the United States to honor the choice of the people of Puerto Rico (provided it is one of the status options specified in the legislation) and should specify the means by which such a choice would be made.
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