The western United States is, in some ways, still as wild as it was when the first pioneers took their wagons across the country. There are plenty of cities now, but the allure of the west is still the expanses of deserts with their breathtaking sights. Arizona is a stand-out in this attraction, featuring not only the incredible Monument Valley but also the geological phenomenon that give the state its nickname—the Grand Canyon.
In addition to so much natural beauty, the state also has one of the most attractive flags in North America. The flag is rich with meaning, just as the landscape is rich with incredible sights.
Unlike most states, Arizona’s flag was in use well before the territory officially gained statehood. In 1910, the National Guard held a competition between the rifle squads of all the different states. The Arizona team was participating but had no banner to represent them.
The colonel of the Arizona National Guard, William Harris, decided to rectify the situation. He worked with W.R. Stewart, head of the rifle team from Mesa, to create the first version of the flag that would eventually be adopted as the state flag. Stewart’s wife, Mae, had the honor of sewing the competition flag from a sketch on the back of an envelope.
Arizona became the 48th state in February of 1912, but the flag remained unofficial until the meeting of the 3rd Arizona legislature in February of 1917. The design was slightly modified from the original rifle team flag to appease different political interests, though the changes were very slight.
The first U.S. congressman from Arizona, Carl Hayden had a hand in the modifications, and his wife, Nan, sewed the first official flag. Even with the political adjustments, there was some dissent. The legislature confirmed the flag, but Governor Thomas Edward Campbell never signed the measure.
The official recognition for the state flag came when the legislature decided to standardize some rules on the display of the Arizona flag, almost 50 years after the initial legislation. Governor Samuel Goddard signed 17 rules pertaining to the display of the flag into law in June of 1966.
This executive order also had an appendix that standardized the design and colors of the flag, separate from the official state colors of blue and “old gold.” Many of the flag rules have since been modified, but this executive order removed any doubt that the flag was officially recognized.
Design and Symbolism
Arizona’s state flag features one of the boldest designs of any flag in the United States. The bottom half of the flag is solid blue; specifically, the same blue as that of the star field background on the United States flag.
The top half features 13 rays of alternating red and yellow. The red is also specifically the red of the U.S. flag, but the yellow is not regulated. These halves are joined in the center by a copper star, the color of which is also not officially regulated.
The size of each element of the flag is carefully regulated. The proportions are based on the official flag size of four feet by six feet. On this full-size flag, the blue bottom half should be two feet high, and the top half should also be two feet high. The star should be two feet large, as well, and perfectly centered so the lowest points on the star are one foot from the bottom border and the top point is one foot from the top border.
Beyond symbolizing Arizona’s part as the 48th state of the United States, the blue half of the flag is said to represent the Colorado River. The Colorado River flows on the west side of the state, near the California border. The copper color of the central star is very straightforward as well. It represents Arizona’s status as the leader in copper production in the United States.
There are 13 rays on the top of the flag to represent the original 13 colonies of the United States. The rays are alternating red and yellow, so there are seven red rays and six yellow rays. The red and yellow represent the colors of the Spanish flag. The colors also commemorate the Spanish conquistadors, who were the first to colonize Arizona in their search for the mythical golden city of Cibola.
The bright colors and fresh design of the Arizona flag are instantly recognizable. They’re even award-winning. The flag was ranked sixth in the North American Vexillological Association’s survey of over 70 flags flown on the North American continent. Arizona residents are rightfully proud of their unique, historic banner. It is carried at University of Arizona football games and flies over thousands of homes, businesses, and government buildings. In a state that has many features to be proud of, the flag is right at the top of that list.