Old Glory has been our nation’s symbol for more than two centuries. The country’s colors fly everywhere – high above the Capitol dome and on front porches along suburban streets. Learn the history of the Stars and Stripes and the basics for displaying the American flag.
HISTORY OF THE U.S. FLAG
The design of the U.S. flag has evolved since the American Revolution. Here's a look:
1776 The Cambridge, or Grand Union flag, preceded the Declaration of Independence and still bore the British flag of the time.
1777 The first flag ordered by Congress on June 14 had no official arrangement of its 13 stars. Several variations were used.
1795 "The Star-Spangled Banner," inspiration for the national anthem, had 15 stars and 15 stripes for the original 13 states plus Vermont and Kentucky.
1818 The number of stripes returned to 13 for the original 13 states. The 20 stars represented the number of states.
1861 During the Civil War, the flag had stars for 34 states, including the Confederate states.
1912 Stars for New Mexico and Arizona brought the number to 48. This flag, flown from 1912 to 1959, had the second-longest longevity of any design until the current flag.
1959 Statehood for Alaska and Hawaii added the 49th and 50th stars to the flag.
DISPLAYING THE STARS AND STRIPES
Custom suggests that the U.S. flag be displayed only from sunrise to sunset unless it is illuminated. The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously. It should not be allowed to touch the ground.
WALL The flag can be displayed vertically or horizontally; the stars should be at the top of the flag on the observer's left.
PODIUM The flag should be placed to the right of a speaker or staging area (from the speaker's perspective); other flags should be placed to the left.
GROUP When the U.S. flag is flown with other national flags, they should be of equal size and flown on separate staffs of the same height. International law forbids a nation's flag to be flown above any other nation's in peacetime.
STATE The U.S. flag flies at the center and highest point of a group when flags of states, localities or societies are grouped for display.
HALF-STAFF Flown at half-staff during national mourning, the flag should be hoisted to the top of the flagpole for a moment, then lowered to half-staff. The flag should be raised to the top of the pole before lowering it at end of the day.
TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE
Try answering these questions about Old Glory.
1. Francis Scott Key wrote the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner" on the back of an envelope. What is the source of the music for the song?
2. Which president made official provision for the arrangement of the stars?
3. Who was Elizabeth Griscom, and what was her connection to the flag?
4. Who planted the first U.S. flag on the moon?
5. Is it ever appropriate to fly the flag upside down?
6. What is done with worn or outdated flags?
7. The U.S. flag first flew over a foreign fort in what country?
8. A vexillologist is an expert in what?
9. "Shipwreck" Kelly (1885-1952) was famous for sitting for long periods of time. What did he have to do with flags?
10. The United States has one of the oldest national flags. Which countries have older flags?
Answers: A true patriot scores at least seven right. If you score between four and seven, it's time to read up on Old Glory. If you score below four, it's time to head back to civics class.
1. The music is from an English drinking song called "To Anacreon in Heaven."
2. In 1912, President William H. Taft ordered that there be six rows of eight stars, with each star pointing upward. Previously the arrangement of the stars had been left to the flagmaker's fancy.
3. Elizabeth Griscom, also known as Betsy, eloped with John Ross in November 1773. Betsy Ross, of course, sewed the first U.S. flag.
4. Neil Armstrong, on July 20, 1969.
5. Yes, but only in an emergency to alert others you're in need of help.
6. Flags are used until they are worn out, and then they are destroyed, preferably by burning.
7. Libya -- over Fort Derne, on the shores of Tripoli.
8. The history of flags.
9. "Shipwreck" Kelly set many flagpole-sitting records. He sat for 49 days on one flagpole.
10. Austria, Denmark, Great Britain, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland.
Here are some words to know:
Field or ground: The 13 stripes. There are seven red and six white stripes; the
top and bottom ones are red.
Fly: The width of a flag when viewed flying.
Half-mast: On ships and naval stations, flying the flag at half-staff.
Half-staff: Flying the flag to one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.
Hoist: The height of a flag when viewed flying.
Union or canton: The blue field in the upper left corner with the 50 stars.
FOLDING THE FLAG
The U.S. flag should be folded in a military fold and put away when not in use. The procedure for folding the flag:
• Bring top and bottom corners together, lengthwise.
• Fold again lengthwise, forming one long strip.
• Beginning at the striped end, bring corner to flat edge.
• Keep folding in triangle pattern toward the stars .
• The folded flag should resemble a triangle.