Featured Image courtesy NASA/JPL – Public Domain
Monday, June 14, is Flag Day, the annual commemoration of the Stars and Stripes. Although not an official government holiday like the Fourth of July, a presidential proclamation encourages all Americans to display the American flag outside their homes and businesses.
According to the Farmers’ Almanac, the flag is usually flown on all public buildings and municipal officials make speeches in towns or cities across the country. (For those who are not adept at writing speeches, the American Legion offers a 2021 generic address free to download.)
As the Almanac points out, the popular legend that the flag was designed and sewn by a Philadelphia seamstress, Betsy Ross, “has been discredited,” although she is given credit with using “five-pointed stars (mullets) rather than six-pointed ones (estoiles).”
Some historians credit Francis Hopkinson, a Philadelphia-born jurist, inventor, scholar, composer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, with the design of the original flag. “Hopkinson himself felt that he was the designer and should be compensated for it by Congress, but Congress argued that many were responsible for the design so he was never paid,” the Almanac notes.
On June 14, 1777, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, the flag’s red, white and blue design became America’s official flag, as designated by the Second Continental Congress: “The flag of the United States will be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white [and]…the union [canton] be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation”; that is, the new nation.
Following the War of 1812, Congress Passed the Flag Act in 1818
With a good deal of prescience, the U.S. looked toward great westward expansion following the War of 1812. In 1818, Congress passed the Flag Act. That law stipulated that the flag would always have 13 alternating horizontal red and white stripes but another star would be added to the field of blue for each new state admitted to the union. (The 49th and 50th stars – for Alaska and Hawaii – were added in 1959.)
The first actual public observance of Flag Day occurred on June 14, 1877, on the centennial of the flag’s adoption and just a dozen years following the fratricidal Civil War. But it wasn’t until 1916 that President Woodrow Wilson unofficially declared June 14 as Flag Day. That year Wilson also proclaimed “The Star Spangled Banner” as the national anthem, one year prior to U.S. entry into World War I.
But like so many activities on Capitol Hill then and now, legislation to officially designate June 14 as Flag Day moved slowly. In fact, it wasn’t passed until 31 years later when President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law in 1949, while the U.S. was engaged in rebuilding a war-torn Europe with the Marshall Plan after the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II.
Having flown across the globe at U.S. embassies, consulates and military installations, the Stars and Stripes has been present on the moon since U.S. Astronaut Neil Armstrong placed it there in 1969, during humanity’s historic first lunar landing by Apollo 11.