CHARLOTTE, NC: Anyone who watches The Big Bang Theory on a regular basis knows all too well about Sheldon Cooper’s webcast called “Fun with Flags.” Sheldon is very excited about his knowledge of Vexillology. In this segment, however, we will be focusing on the American flag. Also known as Old Glory and the Stars and Stripes, the American flag is the most recognizable symbol of America’s ongoing fight for freedom and exceptionalism.
With Labor Day weekend approaching and our flags flying at half-staff to honor Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), our Myth Trivia offering today highlights some of the lesser known facts about the American flag.
The legend behind the American Flag
Legend has it that George Washington requested Betsy Ross to design the first American flag in June of 1777. Most of us know that flag contained 13 stripes of alternating red and white bands representing of the original colonies. There were also 13 stars in a circle in the upper left-hand corner of the flag.
Contrary to that belief, however, the Ross flag is not recognized at the first official flag of the United States. That honor actually belongs to a flag featuring 13 staggered stars in a pattern of five rows; 3, 2, 3, 2, 3.
Some historians do claim that Ross’ contribution is acknowledged as being “adopted” as our first flag, but that’s about as close as it really gets.
Over the course of our existence as a nation, there have been 27 different legal American flags.
The American Flag has grown with America
Most of us know the 13 stripes still allude to the original colonies. But interestingly enough, when the new states of Kentucky and Vermont were added, so too, were two stripes. Thus, from 1795 until 1818, the official U.S. flag had 15 stripes.
Congress re-established the number back to 13 stripes on April 4. 1818 passing a law saying there would be seven red and six white stripes, and it’s been that way ever since.
The stars are another matter. All 27 official American flags have incorporated the staggered rows of stars. The original 13-star flag lasted from 1777-1795 when two more states were added for a total of 15.
As new states joined the U.S., the the growing country needed to establish a practical means of incorporating new stars into the flag. Today, by law, America adds new stars on July 4th of the year after each new state joins the Union.
Currently, the 50-star flag we see today has been in existence since July 4, 1960 when Hawaii became the newest state.
The American Flag never wavers
It’s interesting to note that no U.S. flag ever becomes obsolete, meaning that it is legal to display any of the 27 flags at any time, even the one with 15 stripes.
United States Territories also have their own flags, such as Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as does the District of Columbia.
During the War of 1812, the flag which Francis Scott Key so beautifully referred to as the “Star Spangled Banner” inspired Key to write the music to what has become our National Anthem. The restored flag from that battle now hangs in the Smithsonian Institution.
The pointed ends of the American Flag
Between 1862 and 1885 the U.S. cavalry had a guidon that followed the traditions of the national flag in its basic design.
The biggest difference: A triangular cut deep into the flying end of the banner gave the appearance of two pointed triangles at the end. This flag found extensive use during the Civil War and in many of the battles against the Indians of the west.
In fact, it was this guidon that General Custer flew during his infamous “last stand” against the Lakota, Northern Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes.
Speaking of Hawaii, in the 19th century, the islands’ own King Kamehameha created the flag that still flies over that state. After receiving flags from both the British and Americans during the War of 1812, the king decided to demonstrate his neutrality by incorporating aspects from the flags of both countries.
Thus, Hawaii features the British Union Jack as part of its official state flag.
There’s plenty more to learn about our flag and those of other nations as well. Just tune in to The Big Bang Theory sometime and let Sheldon Cooper educate you.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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