The Flag of the United States
No one knows with absolute
certainty who designed the first stars and stripes or who made it. Congressman
Francis Hopkinson seems most likely to have designed it, and few historians
believe that Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, made the first one.
Until the Executive Order
of June 24, 1912, neither the order of the stars nor the proportions of
the flag were prescribed. Consequently, flags dating before this period,
sometimes show unusual arrangements of the stars and odd proportions, these
features being left to the discretion of the flag maker. In general, however,
straight rows of stars and proportions similar to those later adopted officially
were used. The principal acts affecting the flag of the United States are
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
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 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
The Original Pledge of Allegiance
“I pledge of allegiance
to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands-one nation indivisible-with
liberty and justice for all.”
On September 8, 1892, the
Boston based “The Youth’s Companion” magazine published a few words for
students to repeat on Columbus Day that year. Written by Francis Bellamy,
the circulation manager and native of Rome, New York, and reprinted on
thousands of leaflets, was sent out to public schools across the country.
On October 12, 1892, the quadricentennial of Columbus’ arrival, more than
12 million children recited the Pledge of Allegiance, thus beginning a
required school-day ritual.
At the first National Flag
Conference in Washington D.C., on June 14, 1923, a change was made. For
clarity, the words “the flag of the United States” replaced “my flag”.
In the following years various other changes were suggested but were never
It was not until 1942 that
Congress officially recognized the Pledge of Allegiance. One year later,
in June 1943, the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not be
forced to recite it. In fact, today only half of our fifty states have
laws that encourage the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in the classroom!
In June 1954 an amendment
was made to add the words “under God.” Then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower
said “ In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith
in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen
those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful
resource in peace and war.”
This famous name was coined
by Captain Stephen Driver, a shipmaster of Salem, Massachusetts, in 1831.
As he was leaving on one of his many voyages aboard the brig Charles Doggett
- and this one would climax with the rescue of the mutineers of the Bounty
- some friends presented him with a beautiful flag of twenty four stars.
As the banner opened to the ocean breeze for the first time, he exclaimed
He retired to Nashville
in 1837, taking his treasured flag from his sea days with him. By the time
the Civil War erupted, most everyone in and around Nashville recognized
Captain Driver’s “Old Glory”. When Tennessee seceded from the Union, Rebels
were determined to destroy his flag, but repeated searches revealed no
trace of the hated banner.
Then on February 25th, 1862,
Union forces captured Nashville and raised the American flag over the capital.
It was a rather small ensign and immediately folks began asking Captain
Driver if “Old Glory” still existed. Happy to have soldiers with him this
time, Captain Driver went home and began ripping at the seams of his bedcover.
As the stitches holding the quilt-top to the batting unraveled, the onlookers
peered inside and saw the 24-starred original “Old Glory”!
Captain Driver gently gathered
up the flag and returned with the soldiers to the capitol. Though he was
sixty years old, the Captain climbed up to the tower to replace the smaller
banner with his beloved flag. The Sixth Ohio Regiment cheered and saluted-and
later adopted the nickname “Old Glory” as their own, telling and re-telling
the story of Captain Driver’s devotion to the flag we honor yet today.
Captain Driver’s grave is
located in the old Nashville City Cemetery, and is one of 3 places authorized
by an act of Congress where the Flag of the United States may be flown
24 hours a day.
So far, no one has been
able to determine where “Old glory” resides today. A caption above a faded
black and white picture book in Nashville, The Stars and the Stripes, says
only that “Old Glory may no longer be opened to be photographed, and no
color photograph is available.” Visible in the photo in the lower right
corner of the caption is an appliquéd anchor, Captain Driver’s very
personal note. “Old Glory” is the most illustrious of a number of flags
- both Northern and Confederate - reputed to have been similarly hidden
then later revealed as times changed.
“The Star-Spangled Banner”
Francis Scott Key was a
respected young lawyer living in Georgetown just west of where the modern
day Key Bridge crossed the Potomac River, just a few miles from the Capitol,
the White House, and the Federal buildings of Washington D.C. Key resided
with his wife Mary and their six sons and five daughters.
But, after the war broke
out in 1812 over Britain’s attempts to regulate American shipping and other
activities while Britain was at war with France, all was not tranquil in
Georgetown. The British had entered Chesapeake Bay on August 19th 1814,
and by the evening of the 24th of August, the British had invaded and captured
Washington. They set fire to the Capitol and the Whitehouse, the flames
visible for 40 miles away in Baltimore.
President James Madison,
his wife Dolley, and his Cabinet had already fled to a safer location.
A thunder rstorm at dawn kept the fires from spreading. Having done
their work the British troops returned to their ships in and around the
In the days following the
attack on Washington, the American forces prepared for the assault on Baltimore,
they know it would come by both land and sea. They asked Francis Scott
key for his help, and he agreed.
On the morning of September
3rd, he and colonel John Skinner set sail from Baltimore aboard a slop
flying a flag of truce approved by President Madison. On the 7th they found
and boarded the British flagship Tonnant.
The British having feared
they had heard too much of the preparations for the attack on Baltimore,
placed Key and Skinner under guard, first aboard the H.M.S. Surprise, then
onto the sloop and forced them to wait out the battle behind the British
At 7 a.m. on the morning
of September 13, 1814, the British bombardment began, and the flag was
ready to meet the enemy. The bombardment continued for 25 hours.
Both Skinner and Key knew as they watched the battle with apprehension
that as long as the shelling continued, Fort Mc Henry had not surrendered.
But long before daylight there came a sudden and mysterious silence. What
they didn’t know was that the British land assault on Baltimore as well
as the naval attack, had been abandoned. Judging Baltimore as being too
costly a prize, the British officers ordered a retreat.
Waiting in the predawn darkness,
Key waited for the sight that would end his anxiety; the joyous sight of
the great flag blowing in the breeze. When at last daylight came, the flag
was still there!
Being an amateur poet and
having been so uniquely inspired, Key began to write on the back of a letter
he had in his pocket. Sailing back to Baltimore he composed more lines
and in his lodgings at the Indian Queen Hotel he finished the poem. Judge
J.H. Nicholson, his brother-in-law, took it to a printer and copies were
circulated around Baltimore under the title “Defence of Fort M’Henry”.
Two of these copies survive. It was printed in a newspaper for the first
time in the Baltimore Patriot on September 20th, 1814,then in papers as
far away as Georiga and New Hampshire. To the verses was added a note “Tune:
Anacreon in Heaven”. In October a Baltimore actor sang Key’s new
song in public performance and called it “The Star-Spangled Banner.
It became immediately popular,
and remained just one of several patriotic airs until it was finally adopted
as our national anthem on March 3, 1931. But the actual words were not
included in the legal documents. Key himself had written several versions
with slight variations so discrepancies in the exact wording still occur.
The flag, our beloved Star-Spangled
Banner, went on view for the first time after flying over Fort Mc Henry,
on January 1st, 1876 at the Old State House in Philadelphia for the nations’
Centennial celebration. It now resides in the Smithsonian Institution’s
Museum of American History. An opaque curtain shields the now fragile flag
from light and dust. The flag is exposed for viewing for a few moments
once every hour.
Since May 30th, 1949 the
flag has flown continuously by a Joint Resolution of Congress, over the
monument marking the site of Francis Scott Key’s birthplace, Terra Rubra
Farm, Keymar, Maryland.
In the summer of 1813
commander George Armistead, asked that a flag so big that “the British
would have no trouble seeing it from a distance” be made. Two officers
were sent t Baltimore to the home of Mary Young Pickersgill , a “maker
of colours”, and commissioned the flag. Mary along with her daughter Caroline,
began working in an upstairs front bedroom. They used 400 yards of best
quality wool bunting. They cut 15 stars that measured two feet from point
to point. Eight red and seven white stripes, each two feet wide, were cut.
Laying out the material on the malthouse floor of Claggett’s Brewery, the
flag was sewn together. By August it was finished. It measured 42 feet
by 30 and cost $405.90. It now resides in the Baltimore Flag House
Museum and Mary Pickersgill’s home has also been made into a museum.