The state of Utah conjures up quite a few images in the minds of most Americans: Salt Lake City and its beautiful sights, stunning National Parks and strong professional sports. Only a true native Utahan would cite the state’s nickname — the Beehive State. The beehive is more symbolic than literal, but it’s an example of the pride the residents of Utah have in their state and its symbols, like the state flag.
When looking at the flags that have represented the state of Utah, a casual observer may think there are only two different ones. In fact, there are three, although the difference between the second and third is incredibly subtle. The official seal of the State of Utah has always been the primary symbol on the flag.
The seal was adopted just three months after Utah officially became the 45th state in January 1896. The first flag followed a few years later when it was debuted at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in March 1903.
It featured the state seal simply drawn in white lines on a solid blue field. It has one thing in common with quite a few other Western states; it was originally designed by the Daughters of the American Revolution. The governor of Utah commissioned the DAR to design the flag, so it was commonly called the “Governor’s Flag” until it was officially adopted as the state flag by the Utah legislature in 1911. It did not enjoy a long life as the official flag. A new design replaced it in January 1913.
Evolution of the Modern Flag
The two most recent flags of Utah both came about due to flag makers’ errors. In 1912, shortly after the official adoption of the first flag, a group called the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers commissioned a flag to be presented to the battleship USS Utah. When the flag arrived, the flag maker mistakenly rendered the seal in color and added a gold circle around the seal.
It turned out to be a fortuitous error, as one group member proposed that this full-color flag replace the current white outline. The state legislature adopted the colorful flag and hung it above the state capitol in Salt Lake City in January of 1913. This new flag was eventually given to the USS Utah and flew above the ship for the first time on June 25, 1913. There was even a gala held in honor of the new flag.
Unlike the first official state flag, the second official state flag endured nearly 100 years. In 2011, the Utah State Legislature decided to fix an error that had appeared on the state flag since 1922. At some point in that year, a flag maker mistakenly printed the year “1847” below the shield on the state seal instead of on the shield as it should be. This mistake was copied and persisted until the 59th legislative session in March 2011. The year was moved inside the shield, into its rightful place, and the third state flag of Utah was officially adopted.
The state seal is the only icon on the flag, but it is rich with symbolism dating back to the days before statehood. The blue color of the flag’s field is common to many states and echoes the blue of the United States flag. The color traditionally symbolizes vigilance, perseverance and justice. The seal is ringed by a gold circle, and just inside the circle but outside of the seal is the year 1896, the year Utah was granted statehood.
The first symbol on the seal is the bald eagle. It is the national bird of the United States and symbolizes protection in both peace and war-time. The eagle is perched on a white shield that is flanked by United States flags. Utah’s flag is rare with this detail — very few state flags feature the nation’s stars and stripes. This symbol was chosen to represent the loyalty of Utah citizens to the nation.
Since the state was founded by Mormons interested in creating a religious center in the American West, the Mormons were often seen to be disloyal to the United States. Utah was denied statehood for nearly 40 years due to this prejudice. This symbol cements their identity as American citizens, first and foremost.
The shield itself has a beehive on the center. While there are certainly beehives in the state, this detail was chosen to represent the tireless progress and hard work of Utah citizens. The theme is strengthened with the word “industry” featured above the beehive in blue lettering. Under the beehive, there is the state name and the year 1847, which represents the year that the first Mormon settlers entered the Salt Lake Valley. The beehive is surrounded by sego lilies, the state flower.
The design of the Utah flag may be very similar to that of many other states, but the symbols make it stand out from the crowd. The state flag is something that Utah residents display proudly to show their commitment to their state as well as their nation. It is a truly unique symbol of American loyalty.