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June 14, 2024

Flag Day Facts That May Surprise You

Flag Day, observed annually on June 14, this very day, honors the adoption of the American flag, a symbol rich in history and meaning. While not as widely celebrated as the Fourth of July, Flag Day holds significant importance in the American calendar. Let's celebrate ten fascinating facts about Flag Day and the emblematic Stars and Stripes.

1. The Origins of Flag Day

Flag Day commemorates the adoption of the first American flag on June 14, 1777, by the Continental Congress. This resolution specified that the flag should have 13 stripes, alternating red and white, and 13 stars on a blue field, representing the original colonies. The idea of a day to honor the flag, however, did not gain traction until the late 19th century.

The first formal observance of Flag Day is credited to Bernard J. Cigrand, a Wisconsin schoolteacher, who in 1885, held a celebration for the flag's birthday in his classroom. Cigrand's efforts sparked a national movement to establish an annual observance, leading to various local and state celebrations throughout the country.

2. President Woodrow Wilson's Proclamation

Though Flag Day was celebrated informally in various communities for years, it wasn't until President Woodrow Wilson's proclamation in 1916 that it gained national recognition. Wilson designated June 14 as Flag Day, urging Americans to reflect on the history and significance of the flag and its role in fostering unity and patriotism.

Despite Wilson's proclamation, Flag Day did not become a national holiday. It wasn't until 1949 that Congress, inspired by decades of advocacy from patriotic groups and citizens, officially recognized Flag Day by passing a resolution designating June 14 as National Flag Day. President Harry S. Truman signed it into law, making the observance official.

3. The Evolution of the Flag's Design

The American flag has undergone numerous changes since its adoption in 1777. The original flag featured 13 stars in a circle, symbolizing the unity of the original colonies. Over the years, as new states joined the Union, the number of stars increased, reflecting the growing nation.

One of the most significant changes occurred in 1818 when Congress passed a law mandating that the flag should have 13 stripes to honor the original colonies and one star for each state. The current design, with 50 stars, was adopted on July 4, 1960, following Hawaii's admission as the 50th state. This version of the flag is the longest-serving design in American history.

4. Betsy Ross and the Flag Legend

The story of Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag is a well-known part of American folklore, though its historical accuracy is debated. According to the legend, in June 1776, George Washington, along with a secret committee, visited Ross in Philadelphia, asking her to create a flag for the new nation.

Ross, a skilled upholsterer, suggested a five-pointed star instead of the six-pointed one originally proposed, arguing that it was easier to cut and sew. While there is no concrete evidence to support this story, Betsy Ross remains a cherished figure in American history, symbolizing the spirit of independence and craftsmanship.

5. The Meaning Behind the Colors

The colors of the American flag are often seen as symbolic. According to Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, the white signifies purity and innocence, red represents hardiness and valor, and blue stands for vigilance, perseverance, and justice. These interpretations align with the ideals of the fledgling nation and continue to resonate with Americans today.

Interestingly, the Flag Code, established in 1942, does not assign specific meanings to the colors of the flag. The interpretations provided by Thomson and others have become widely accepted through tradition and historical context.

6. Flag Etiquette and the Flag Code

The United States Flag Code outlines the proper ways to display, handle, and respect the flag. Adopted on June 14, 1923, by the National Flag Conference, the code provides guidelines on how to display the flag, how it should be treated, and how to dispose of it respectfully when it is no longer fit for use.

For instance, the flag should never touch the ground, and it should be illuminated if displayed at night. When a flag becomes worn or damaged, it should be retired in a dignified manner, often through a flag-burning ceremony conducted by organizations like the American Legion.

7. Flag Day Parades and Celebrations

While Flag Day is not a federal holiday, it is celebrated with various local events and traditions. One of the oldest and largest Flag Day parades takes place in Quincy, Massachusetts, a tradition dating back to 1952. Other notable celebrations occur in Troy, New York, and Fairfield, Washington, where communities gather to honor the flag with parades, ceremonies, and educational activities.

In addition to parades, many Americans observe Flag Day by displaying the flag at their homes, participating in patriotic events, and learning about the history of the flag and its significance.

8. The Flag in Art and Culture

The American flag has been a powerful symbol in art and culture, representing a range of themes from patriotism to protest. Iconic images, such as the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima during World War II, have become enduring symbols of American resilience and unity.

Artists like Jasper Johns have used the flag in their work to explore themes of identity and national pride. Johns' 1954 painting "Flag" is one of the most famous depictions, reflecting both the strength and complexity of American symbolism.

9. Flag Day and the Pledge of Allegiance

Flag Day also holds a special connection to the Pledge of Allegiance. Originally composed by Francis Bellamy in 1892, the pledge was meant to promote national unity and was first published in a children's magazine to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas.

The wording of the pledge has changed slightly over the years, with the most notable addition being the phrase "under God" in 1954. Flag Day is a time when many Americans reflect on the words of the pledge and its significance in expressing loyalty and commitment to the nation.

10. Flag Day as a Time for Reflection

Beyond the parades and ceremonies, Flag Day serves as a time for Americans to reflect on the principles and values the flag represents. It is an opportunity to consider the nation's history, the struggles for freedom and equality, and the ongoing pursuit of a more perfect union.

In schools and communities, Flag Day often involves educational programs and activities that teach younger generations about the importance of the flag, fostering a sense of respect and appreciation for this enduring symbol of American ideals.


Flag Day may not have the prominence of other national holidays, but it holds a unique place in American culture as a day dedicated to honoring the symbol of the nation's values and history. From its origins in the late 18th century to its current role in fostering patriotism and reflection, Flag Day serves as a reminder of the enduring power of the Stars and Stripes. Whether through parades, educational activities, or personal reflection, Americans continue to celebrate and honor the flag, recognizing its role in uniting the nation and inspiring future generations.