What is Flag Day All About?

Flag Day, falling on Friday, June 14, 2024, commemorates the adoption of the American flag. This annual celebration pays tribute to the “Stars and Stripes,” officially chosen by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, amidst the Revolutionary War. Before this, colonial troops rallied under various banners bearing symbols like rattlesnakes, pine trees, and eagles, alongside mottos such as “Don’t Tread on Me” and “Liberty or Death.”

The necessity for a unified flag arose with the Declaration of Independence, as prior to this, each colony had its own emblem. Congress, on that pivotal June day, declared the design: “thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white on a blue field.” However, the official announcement came later, on September 3, 1777.

Flag Day, though celebrated patriotically for years, gained formal recognition when President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it on May 30, 1916.

As for the creation of the first American flag, while legend often credits Betsy Ross, historical evidence is scant. Yet, records attest to Ross’s contribution to making ensigns for the Philadelphia Navy during the war, likely inspiring the flag’s design.

The original 1777 flag symbolized the 13 colonies with its 13 stars and stripes. Initially, the stars were arranged in a circle to denote equality among the colonies. However, in 1818, Congress opted to maintain the 13 stripes but incorporate additional stars to signify each new state. Bob G. Heft, a high schooler from Lancaster, Ohio, designed the current 50-star flag in 1958, anticipating Hawaii and Alaska’s statehood. Despite initially receiving a “B-” for his effort, President Eisenhower’s call confirmed Heft’s design as the basis for the modern American flag, earning him an “A” and a place in history.

Historical Facts About the U.S. Flag

  • January 1, 1776: The first United States flag, the “Grand Union,” was displayed by George Washington. It became the unofficial national flag, preceding the 13-star, 13-stripe version.
  • June 14, 1777: The Stars and Stripes were adopted by the Continental Congress as the Flag of the United States.
  • June 14, 1877: Flag Day was observed nationally for the first time on the 100th anniversary of the Stars and Stripes—and continues today.
  • June 14, 1937: Pennsylvania became the first state in the United States to celebrate Flag Day officially as a state holiday.
  • July 4, 1960: The new 50-star flag was flown for the first time—the flag that still flies today.

Why is the American Flag Red, White, and Blue?

The Continental Congress did not provide documentation regarding the rationale behind their selection of these colors. However, in 1782, during the Congress of the Articles of Confederation, the colors were designated for the Great Seal of the United States, each imbued with specific symbolism:

  • white for purity and innocence
  • red for valor and hardiness
  • blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice