The "Stars and Stripes" as we know it today, with its blue field of 50 white stars and 13 red and white stripes representing the original 13 colonies, underwent several transformations.
The first flag raised in the United States was hoisted by John Cabot in 1497; it flew the banners of England and St. Mark. As settlers populated the colonies, each territory adopted its own flag. By 1707, each colony had its own flag, the forerunners of the individual state flags today. The first colonial flag representing all the colonies, however, was believed to have been raised on Prospect Hill in Boston at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The "Continental Colors" bore the cross of the British flag in the upper left corner with 13 alternating red and white stripes extending horizontally. In 1777 the first Continental Congress "Resolved, that the Flag of the United States be thirteen stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be thirteen stars white on a blue field, representing a constellation."
As the new Union grew, Congress voted in 1794 to add two stripes and two stars to represent the two new states of Vermont and Kentucky. This flag is believed to be the one nicknamed the "Star-Spangled Banner." By 1818 five more states had joined, and on April 4, Congress voted to keep the number of stripes at 13 and to add a star to the field for every new state, the stars for the new states being added the July 4th after each state's admission to the Union.
The table below shows the order in which states joined the Union and the number of revisions the flag went through before arriving at its current design.
The U.S. Flag: 1777-1960
Date Used # of Stars Designs States Represented
June 14, 1777 13 1 Original 13 colonies
May 1, 1795 15 2 Vermont, Kentucky
July 4, 1818 20 3 Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi
July 4, 1819 21 4 Illinois
July 4, 1820 23 5 Alabama, Maine
July 4, 1822 24 6 Missouri
July 4, 1836 25 7 Arkansas
July 4, 1837 26 8 Michigan
July 4, 1845 27 9 Florida
July 4, 1846 28 10 Texas
July 4, 1847 29 11 Iowa
July 4, 1848 30 12 Wisconsin
July 4, 1851 31 13 California
July 4, 1858 32 14 Minnesota
July 4, 1859 33 15 Oregon
July 4, 1861 34 16 Kansas
July 4, 1863 35 17 West Virginia
July 4, 1865 36 18 Nevada
July 4, 1867 37 19 Nebraska
July 4, 1877 38 20 Colorado
July 4, 1890 43 21 N/S Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho
July 4, 1891 44 22 Wyoming
July 4, 1896 45 23 Utah
July 4, 1908 46 24 Oklahoma
July 4, 1912 48 25 New Mexico, Arizona
July 4, 1959 49 26 Alaska
July 4, 1960 50 27 Hawaii
Care and Use of the Flag
Wherever and whenever it is displayed, the first requirement for flying the flag is that it be flown with respect. To show respect and honor to the symbol of the United States, fly it only in good weather, on all holidays and special occasions, and on official buildings such as schools when they are in session, post offices, courthouses, and the like. The flag generally is flown only from sunrise to sunset and at full staff. If it is displayed at night, it should be lit. Fly the flag at half staff to commemorate the death of an official and until noon on Memorial Day.
The White House flag is flown only when the president is in residence and only from sunrise to sunset. At the Capitol building, the flag flies over the appropriate wing when the House or Senate is in session. The flag is flown all night long and is lit by lights from the Capitol dome. Other special national monuments also fly the flag at night, notably Fort McHenry National Monument in Baltimore, Maryland, where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."
When handling the flag, never let it touch the ground. When it flies with other flags, it should appear prominently above them. The flag should be to its own right (to the left, viewed face-on) with its staff in front of the staff of the other flag when placed against a wall with another flag. In a group of flags, the U.S. flag should be at the center. (The flag of the United Nations and a navy chaplain's church pennant may be flown above the U.S. flag.)
Hoist the flag quickly and lower it ceremoniously to the tempo of "Taps." If the flag is hung from a rope attached to a building, the field of stars should face away from the building; when hung over a street, the Union side should face north or east.
On a platform, the flag may be hung flat against the wall behind and above the speaker with the field of stars to the audience's left. In a church, the flag on its staff should be to the right of the speaker's platform and other flags to the left of the platform. If the flag is flown anywhere else in the chancel or on a platform, it should be to the right of the audience as they face the platform.
Salute when the flag passes in a parade or review, is being raised or lowered, is present at the playing of the national anthem, or is present at the saying of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Civilians should salute the flag by standing at attention and placing their right hands over their hearts. Men should remove their hats and hold them over their left shoulders with their right hand. Military personnel in uniform should give the military salute. Noncitizens should stand at attention.
(c) 1993 by The New York Public Library and The Stonesong Press, Inc.
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