A Brief and Interesting History of the American Flag

Every country in the world is represented by a flag of some kind, yet only a few are instantly recognizable to the masses. If you go to a location where flags form across the world are flown, you’d be hard pressed to identify more than a handful. The one that pretty much everyone will instantly get is the American Flag seen at FlagsExpo, as it is perhaps the most iconic of them all. What’s ironic about that is the fact that the history of the flag has some level of urban legend attached to it, with the history of how it came into being called into question by many historians.

Legend has it that the first American Flag was stitched together by a resident of Philadelphia named Betsy Ross. While Miss Ross may have been nothing more than a lowly seamstress, it is believed that she held acquaintances with George Washington and a number of other influential member of Philadelphia society. It is believed that Washington, as well as a pair of members of the Continental Congress, paid a visit to the shop where Betsy Ross plied her trade. They brought with them a rough design of the flag, with the stars on that original design all having 6-pointed stars. Miss Ross believed that a 5-pointed star looked better, and assured the gentlemen that cutting her style of star would be much easier from a design standpoint. The men agreed, and the Stars and Stripes was officially born in May 1776.

Actually verifying this story had proved to be impossible, but there are some clues that point to at least part of it being true. Betsy Ross was regularly commissioned to make flags for the navy of Philadelphia, so it’s not really a stretch to think that she may have been asked to make the first American flag. Another clue came from her grandson, William Canby, when he spoke to the Philadelphia Historical Society in 1870, taking time to mention the impact that his grandmother had made in shaping the history of the country.

Initially, the Grand Union Flag was used as the unofficial flag of the US, and it had the familiar red and white stripes that we see today, as well as the British Union Flag up in one corner. Another version saw a rattlesnake placed in place of the British flag, with the motto “Don’t Tread on me” also included. The American flag as we know it today got its beginnings in June 1777, with 13 stars, representing the 13 colonies, situated on the flag. Two more stars, as well as a pair of stripes, were added in 1795 to include Vermont and Kentucky.

In 1818, Congress delivered legislation stating that the 13 stripes remain as is, with future stars to be added as new states were introduced into the union. As most everyone is aware of, the number of stars on the American flag now sits at 50, one for each state, with the last one added in 1960 when Hawaii became the newest state.