"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Not Just For Kids

The Story of Old Glory

Since Flag Day is June 14th and Independence Day is coming up on the 4th of July, I wanted to devote this article to some interesting history and trivia about the United States flag.

The U.S. flag is one of the oldest national flags in the world. It was on June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress passed a resolution “that the United States flag be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, that the Union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” The new flag was called Stars and Stripes. (The affectionate name "Old Glory" was coined in 1831 by a young sea captain named William Driver from Salem, Massachusetts.)

The color scheme and design of the U.S. flag are symbolic of America itself. George Washington explained it this way: "We take the stars and blue union from heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing liberty." It can also be said that the white stripes represent the purity and serenity of the nation, while the red stripes represent the blood spilled by Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom.

The resolution of 1777 did not specify how the stars should be arranged. Most early flags had the stars in a circle, but some had them in horizontal lines. Two new states had been formed by 1795, bringing the number of stars and stripes up to 15. Then it was realized that the addition of more stripes would ruin the flag’s appearance. Congress passed a law in 1818 returning the flag to its original 13 stripes and stating that a star would be added for each new state.

In 1870, William J. Canby claimed that his grandmother, a seamstress from Philadelphia named Betsy Ross, created the first official U.S. flag. While there are no records proving this, she was probably commissioned to sew the flag, and she also may have been responsible for changing the stars from being six-pointed to five-pointed, which were easier to make.

Most historians now agree that the flag was originally designed by Francis Hopkinson, a New Jersey delegate to the Continental Congress, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and recognized designer. A record was found of Hopkinson submitting a bill of $2,700 to Congress for "currency designs, design for the Great Seal of the U.S., a treasury seal, a design for the Flag."

During the late 1800’s, schools held Flag Day programs to assist the Americanization of immigrant children. The first time the Stars and Stripes flew in a Flag Day celebration was at Hartford, Connecticut in 1861, the first summer of the Civil War. The observance caught on in the communities, and numerous patriotic groups supported a national Flag Day.

People made the flag in different shapes until 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson declared that it should always be 1 9/10 times as long as it is high and that the blue part on which the stars appear should be seven stripes high. It was also in 1916 that the President proclaimed a nationwide observance of Flag Day. Congress made it a permanent holiday in 1949.

The creator of the modern 50-star flag, Robert Heft, was a high school junior in Ohio when Alaska and Hawaii were being considered for statehood. As a history project, he got out a sewing machine and made a flag with 50 stars. A year later, in 1959 the states were admitted and a search was on for a new flag design. Heft’s congressman helped him submit his prototype. It was chosen over 109,000 designs, and his was the first flag with 50 stars to fly over Washington, D.C.

On June 20, 1985, Congress passed and President Reagan signed a law recognizing the “Annual National Pause for the Pledge of Allegiance” as part of National Flag Day activities. This simple ceremony of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance was meant to be a gesture of patriotism at home and a sign of unity abroad.

Flag Rules - The flag is a special symbol of our nation and it should be treated with respect, thus showing respect for America itself. The Federal Flag Code contains many rules for handling and displaying our flag, including the following: (1) When you are saluting the flag or saying the pledge of allegiance, stand up straight with your right hand over your heart. (2) If you are watching a parade and a flag is carried past you, salute it the moment it passes. (3) The flag should always be displayed and stored carefully so that it won’t become torn or dirty. (4) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, structures or objects. (5) When a flag has become old and worn, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning it. (6) When a flag is hung on a flagpole, it should only be displayed from sunrise to sunset, unless a light is shining on it. (7) The flag should be displayed on all national holidays.

Flag Project - Make an American flag based on the design specifications mentioned in this article. Or create a new 51-star flag just in case the U.S. ever gains another state. How would you rearrange the number of stars in each row to make room for another star?

Did you Know…? If you like to study flags, then you are a Vexillologist!

The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge to the Flag was initially penned for the official program of the National Public School Celebration of Columbus Day in October 1892. According to historians, Mr. Francis Bellamy (a Socialist who was a National Education Association committee chairman), wrote the original 23 words of the Pledge, which stated: “I pledge allegiance to my Flag, and the Republic for which it stands: one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.”

The Pledge to the Flag was recited daily by children in schools all across America, and gained popularity among patriotic adults as well. On June 22, 1942, the United States Congress included the Pledge to the Flag in the United States Flag Code. In 1945, the Pledge to the Flag was officially renamed as The Pledge of Allegiance.

The wording of the Pledge has been modified three times since it was originally written. On June 14, 1923, “my flag” was changed to “the flag of the United States.” In 1924, the words “of America” were added. On June 14, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower approved adding the words "under God." He 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." Ever since then, the pledge has been read as: “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

On June 26, 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco declared the phrase "One nation, under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance to be unconstitutional, based on a complaint by Michael Newdow, an atheist who argued that the pledge violated his daughter's First Amendment rights because she had to "watch and listen as her state-employed teacher in her state-run school leads her classmates in a ritual proclaiming...'one nation under God.' The ruling, however, was put on hold due to the vast amount of opposition it generated across the United States. The federal appeals court’s decision was based on a false premise in the first place, because the eight-year-old daughter of Michael Newdow is a Christian and wasn't troubled by the words "under God," according to Newman’s ex-wife, who is also a Christian.

On May 22, 2003, the American Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm specializing in constitutional law, announced that it was filing a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take the Pledge of Allegiance case. "This is the perfect opportunity for the Supreme Court to set the record straight and protect time-honored and historically significant traditions like the Pledge of Allegiance," said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. He argues that the Pledge and specifically the phrase “One nation, under God” is a patriotic expression, not a state-sponsored religious declaration or an affirmation of a particular faith. The brief also asserts that Congress added the phrase to the Pledge in 1954 "for the express purpose of reaffirming America's unique understanding of this truth, and to distinguish America from atheistic nations who recognize no higher authority than the State." The brief states that the "words of the Pledge echo the conviction held by the Founders of this Nation that our freedoms come from God."

Discussion Question: Which version of the Pledge do you think should be used? Do you prefer the addition of the phrase “under God” or should we revert back to the original wording?

Flag Day Quiz (Try to answer these questions without looking at a flag!)

1. How many red stripes does the flag have?

2. How many white stripes does the flag have?

3. What color stripes are at the top and bottom of the flag?

4. How many horizontal rows of stars are there?

5. What do the red and white stripes represent?

6. The reason the flag is folded into a triangular shape is to symbolize the shape of the cocked hats worn by soldiers of the American Revolution. True or False?

7. The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 for the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. True or False?

8. Francis Scott Key was inspired to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” after watching the flag waving triumphantly over Fort McHenry during a heavy British bombardment in what war?

9. The phrase “one nation indivisible” in the Pledge of Allegiance refers to what American war?

10. What does the word “Republic” in the Pledge of Allegiance mean?

Answers: 1.) Seven; 2.) Six; 3.) Red; 4.) Nine; 5.) Thirteen original colonies; 6.) True; 7.) True; 8.) The War of 1812; 9.) The Civil War; 10.) A Republic is a nation in which the citizens elect representatives to make laws and operate the government for them. (America’s Founding Fathers were opposed to a pure democracy by direct majority vote.)


www.usflag.org (A site dedicated to the flag of the United States.)

www.flagday.org (The National Flag Foundation: educational handbooks and resources, Star-Spangled Banner lesson plan, story and meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance, flag photo gallery.)

www.holidayinsights.com/other/flagday.htm (Flag facts, information, and fun.)

www.flagday.com/history/index.shtml (Flag history, facts, etiquette, questions & answers, notable quotes, colors, symbols, how to make a 5-pointed star in one snip, and more.)

http://vikingphoenix.com/Holidays/flagday.htm (American flag information, news, and links.)

www.niehs.nih.gov/kids/musicpatriot.htm (Sing-along midi tunes and lyrics for “Star-Spangled Banner,” “Grand Old Flag” and other patriotic songs; plus an American flag to print out.)


These pages are a continuous work in progress.
Copyright © 2000- by Teri Ann Berg Olsen
All rights reserved.

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