Brief History of the Flag
The American flag has long been a symbol of the values held by our Founding Fathers: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Betsy Ross, a widowed seamstress living in Philadelphia, created the first flag for all of the colonies in May 1776 at the urging of General George Washington and several other members of the Continental Congress.
The flag was hand sewn just two months before the colonies declared independence from Great Britain and the crown. Prior to that time, various colonies and militias had used their own flags, ranging in design from the Rattlesnake Flag with its infamous “don’t tread on me” to those which incorporated the Union Jack, indicating loyalty to the crown.
On June 14, 1777, in an effort to promote national pride and to unify the 13 separate colonies as one United States of America, the Continental Congress adopted the national flag. It had 13 stripes, alternating red and white, to represent the 13 colonies, and 13 white stars in front of a blue background. Since then, there have been 27 iterations of the new flag. Each version was created on the July 4th following a new state’s or states’ admission to the union.
Symbolism in the American Flag
These days, Americans do not think twice about red, white, and blue as the colors of our nation, but these colors were selected based on their meaning. White signifies purity and innocence; red signifies valor and bravery; and blue means perseverance and justice. Similarly, the stars and the stripes hold their own significance. Stars are from the heavens, and the original 13 stars represented a new constellation – a clear metaphor for a new nation. Stripes are symbolic of rays from the sun. The combination of these pieces and colors yields a flag that symbolizes traditional American values to all who see it; hence, the commonly used nickname “The Stars and Stripes.”
American Flag Holidays
The celebration of the birthday of the United States of America, or, as it is more commonly known “Independence Day,” is traditionally celebrated on July 4th of each year. However, in 1885, a schoolteacher named BJ Cigrand from Wisconsin initiated the idea for a separate holiday to specifically celebrate the American flag.
From this one school in a small Midwestern town, the idea spread across the country, with President Woodrow Wilson officially establishing Flag Day by proclamation in 1916.
While many communities celebrated Flag Day, it was not until August 3, 1949 that President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th as the official day of celebration for Flag Day.
Properly Displaying the American Flag
There are a number of ways to properly display the American flag, depending on the circumstances. However, one universal rule regarding the American flag is that, if it appears on a flagpole, it must be raised to the peak at sunrise and lowered at sunset. There is also a proper way to fold the flag, which leaves it in the shape of a triangle. This is how the flag is presented to the family of fallen soldiers or veterans after a military funeral.
While many people choose to display their flags outdoors, there are indoor flags as well. Some opt to hang the flag, which should be suspended vertically; others prefer to display it on a flagpole. If the American flag is displayed currently with other domestic flags (of states, cities, localities, etc.), it should always be at the peak.
When the American flag is flown at half-staff, it must first be hoisted to the peak of the flagpole for a moment, and then immediately lowered to its half-staff position. The flag must be raised again to the peak before it is lowered altogether for the day.
Purchasing an American Flag
When buying an American flag, there are a number of considerations that should be taken into account. Modern-day American flags are easy to acquire and, thus, not particularly expensive. However, many of these flags are made overseas, including in China, which seems not only ironic, but also somewhat unpatriotic.
Every year, nearly $4 million dollars’ worth of American flags are imported to the United States. Prior to 9/11, the majority of American flags were made in the U.S., but demand soared following the terrorist attacks and the surge of patriotism that followed.
In 2014, Congress passed legislation, written by Representative Mike Thompson (D-CA), banning the Department of Defense from using any foreign-made flag to fly above a military installation, either on U.S. soil or abroad, as part of the omnibus appropriations bill.
Another bill calling for a ban on all foreign-made flags at all U.S. government agencies fell short, attributed to the higher cost and to trade agreements with China, the largest producer of American flags.
Those interested in purchasing a flag should ensure that the company making the flags manufactures them exclusively in the United States, as does AmericanFlags.com. This will usually be stated on the website. If you prefer to purchase the flag in person, look for a label that says “Made in the U.S.A.”