Since there was no official American flag, the colors and makeup of the various flags used are vague in the records of history. The American flag was first conceived as a protest against tyranny. The Sons of Liberty Flag was likely the first American flag to use red and white stripes, although there is some disagreement as to whether they were horizontal of vertical. The Sons of Liberty protested the British Stamp Act as well as the Tea Act, participating in the Boston Tea Party. It is their flag that first earned the title of “the rebel stripes” by the British. However, it also looked a lot like the flag of the Dutch East India company, as well, which only confused the British Soldiers.
In 1912, President William Howard Taft signed an executive order that, for the first time, clarified what the flag should look like. Up until then, some flags were oddly proportioned or even had six- or eight-pointed stars. The first Flag Act in 1777 called for 13 stripes, alternating red and white, and a union of 13 stars, white on a field of blue. It is unclear how the flag developed five-pointed stars, as six or more points were customary at the time. They had even thought to have a stripe for each state, as well, but that was not pragmatic.
The Flag of 1818 was designed by Captain Samuel C. Reid, a naval hero in the War of 1812, was asked to design the new flag. He understood the importance of the flag’s visual recognition at sea. Consequently, he reduced the number of stripes back to 13, and called for the arrangement of the stars in rows for naval vessels. After the Act to Establish the Flag of 1818, a star was added for each new state, but the 13 stripes remained.
Four years after Taft's executive order in 1912, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation officially establishing a nationwide observance of Flag Day on June 14, the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777. And in 1949, President Harry Truman signed legislation designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day. While Flag Day is not a federal holiday, the U.S. government encourages its citizens to display Old Glory outside of their homes and businesses.
What do the American flag’s colors and stripes further symbolize?
- RED symbolizes strength and valor
- WHITE symbolizes purity and innocence
- BLUE symbolizes vigilance, perseverance and justice
When America gained its independence from Great Britain, it had 13 colonies: Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts Bay, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island and Providence Plantation. The 13 stripes found in the American flag represent each of these 13 colonies. The modern-day American flag still has 13 stripes of alternating red and white color.
The 50 stars on the American flag also represents a “divine goal.” In 1977, the House of Representatives published a book in which it described the American flag’s stars as being a “symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.”
Prior to this, the flag had fewer stars due to having fewer states. In 1912, the number of stars on the American flag grew to 48, thanks to the addition of New Mexico and Arizona. This remained the country’s official flag for the next 47 years, making it the country’s longest running flag in its history.
It wasn’t until August 21, 1959 when President Eisenhower ordered the American flag to be updated with 50 stars. Since then, the American flag has remained with 50 bold stars neatly arranged in the upper left-hand corner, with one star for each of its 50 states.