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June 14, 2005 > Flag Day, June 14

Flag Day, June 14

by Linda Stone

Popular mythology holds that it was Betsy Ross, a seamstress from Philadelphia, who designed the first American flag. But most experts now believe that it was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Ross was one of many who sewed flags during the Revolutionary War, yet there is little evidence that she designed the first flag. The story told by her grandson, who was 11 years old at the time of her death, credited his grandmother with creating the flag at a meeting of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. But problems with datelines lend doubt to a factual basis. He said that the meeting took place in 1870, 94 years after it occurred.

Historical evidence suggests that Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey native and signer of the Declaration of Independence, is most likely the designer of the first flag. Hopkinson also helped design other symbols for the government including the Great Seal of United States.

Hopkinson was the chairman of the Continental Navy Board's Middle Department at the time. In 1780 he submitted a letter to the Continental Admiralty Board stating that he had designed "the flag of the United States of America." He also noted several other items he had worked on including the Great Seal of the United States. As he had received no compensation for his work, he submitted a bill and asked "whether a Quarter Cask of the public Wine will not be a proper & reasonable Reward for these Labours of Fancy and a suitable Encouragement to future Exertions of a like Nature."

Earl P. Williams: Flag historian and author of "What You Should Know about the American Flag" looked at the development of the earliest official and unofficial flags of the United States, from 1775 through 1818. Earl, a supporter of Francis Hopkinson as the original designer of the US national flag, brought modern interpretations of these early flags as visual aids.

On June 14 (Flag Day) in 1992, the United States Postal Service honored Hopkinson as the "Father of the Stars and Stripes" with a commemorative pictorial postmark showing the flag.

The City of Philadelphia, Edward G. Rendell Mayor, issued a proclamation making September 21, 1992 Francis Hopkinson Day in honor of this "...great American leader" who "is also credited with designing the first official United States flag". Sept. 21 is Hopkinson's birthday.

From the book "Our Flag" published in 1989 by the House of Representatives...
"On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution authorizing a committee to devise a seal for the United States of America. This mission, designed to reflect the Founding Fathers' beliefs, values, and sovereignty of the new Nation, did not become a reality until June 20, 1782. In heraldic devices, such as seals, each element has a specific meaning. Even colors have specific meanings.

The colors red, white, and blue did not have meanings for The Stars and Stripes when it was adopted in 1777. However, the colors in the Great Seal did have specific meanings. Charles Thompson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, reporting to Congress on the Seal, stated:
"The colors of the pales (the vertical stripes) are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief (the broad band above the stripes) signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice."

President Woodrow Wilson established the first national observance by proclamation in 1916. To commemorate the adoption of our flag, the Congress, by joint resolution approved August 3, 1949, as amended (63 Stat. 492), designated June 14 of each year as "Flag Day" requesting that the president issue an annual proclamation calling for its observance and for the display of the Flag.

The principal acts affecting the flag of the United States are the following:

On June 14, 1777, in order to establish an official flag for the new nation, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act: "Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation."

Act of January 13, 1794 - provided for 15 stripes and 15 stars after May 1795.

Act of April 4, 1818 - provided for 13 stripes and one star for each state, to be added to the flag on the 4th of July following the admission of each new state, signed by President Monroe.

Executive Order of President Taft dated June 24, 1912 - established proportions of the flag and provided for arrangement of the stars in six horizontal rows of eight each, a single point of each star to be upward.

Executive Order of President Eisenhower dated January 3, 1959 - provided for the arrangement of the stars in seven rows of seven stars each, staggered horizontally and vertically.

Executive Order of President Eisenhower dated August 21, 1959 - provided for the arrangement of the stars in nine rows of stars staggered horizon tally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically.

Previous to Flag Day, June 14, 1923 there were no federal or state regulations governing display of the United States Flag. It was on this date that the National Flag Code was adopted by the National Flag Conference that was attended by representatives of the Army and Navy that had evolved their own procedures, and some 66 other national groups. This purpose of providing guidance based on the Army and Navy procedures relating to display and associated questions about the U. S. Flag was adopted by all organizations in attendance.

Flag Etiquette
Standards of Respect

The Flag Code, which formalizes and unifies the traditional ways in which we give respect to the flag, also contains specific instructions on how the flag is not to be used. They are:

The flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. It is flown upside down only as a distress signal.

The flag should not be used as a drapery, or for covering a speaker's desk, draping a platform, or for any decoration in general. Bunting of blue, white and red stripes is available for these purposes. The blue stripe of the bunting should be on the top.

The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.

The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, fireman, policeman and members of patriotic organizations.

The flag should never have placed on it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind.

The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.

When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.

The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.

When a flag is so worn it is no longer fit to serve as a symbol of our country, it should be destroyed by burning in a dignified manner.

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