17 Little Known Facts About United States Flag History

Ever since 1777, the American Flag has been a symbol of inspiration to us all. But of course it has a long history that mirrors the history of our country in many ways. Read on to learn 17 little known fact about United States Flag History.

united states flag history

1. 26 Modifications Throughout the United States Flags History

The United States has changed a lot since the first American Flag was sewn. In fact, our symbol of American pride has been changed a total of 26 times since it was first dreamed up. Our country has grown a lot since the design of the first flag was created, with 13 stars and stripes to symbolize the original 13 colonies. As we have added states to our union, we have added more and more stars to symbolize them all.


This video by Vexillographer is a cool example that shows how the flag has changed over time. It shows each arrangement of stars on the flag and listens when the new states were admitted to the Union.

The author has cut outs of each state and “throws” them at the flag, which is a cool visualization for how each state contributes and makes it’s mark on the flag. I especially like the part where he takes off a star, representing Virginia, appears to rip the state into two, and then adds both states back as individuals. This represents the time when West Virginia separated from Virginia in order to remain in the Union during the Civil War.

2. 15 Stripes Only Happened Once In United States Flag History

The official flag in 1795 until the year 1818 was the only version of our flag to have more than 13 stripes. When Kentucky and Vermont were added to the union, the flag was modified for both states to have a star and a stripe to represent them. By the time we started to add more states, Congress passed a law requiring the flag to return to 13 stripes to honor the original colonies while adding more stars every time we added new states.

What a complicated flag we might have had today if Congress hadn’t passed this law! 50 stripes would probably end up look like a big pink box from a distance.

3. Star Spangled Banner Is a Nickname for One Flag In Particular

That 15-stripe flag is often called the Star Spangled Banner flag because it was this version of the American flag that we hailed o’er the ramparts at Fort McHenry when Francis Scott Key was inspired to write what became our nation anthem.

4. Changes to United States Flag History Happens On the 4th of July

Since Congress passed the law in 1818 that kept the stripes on our flag at 13 no matter how many stars were added, every time the flag has been changed since has been on the 4th of July. This was a helpful policy on the years when we had to add more than one star: 1820 (2 stars), 1890 (5 stars), and 1912 (2 stars).

united states flag history

5. We Have Never Decreased The Stars On the Flag

The United States flag history has never included a time where we took away stars, only added them. Even during the Civil War, the Union flag represented all American states, even the ones that wanted to succeed.

6. We Don’t Know Who Sewed the First Flag

Although we all learned by heart that Betsy Ross was the seamstress of the first American Flag, this was likely a story told and widely believed by her grandson well after Betsy’s death. We don’t actually know who sewed the first American flag, although it’s possible that Betsy contributed to the project in one way or another. Betsy Ross might not have even lived in the Philadelphia house named after her today.

7. Go Ahead and Wash It

It’s commonly believed that the American flag should never be washed but rather celebrated for being dirty. This is actually not true. It’s perfectly respectable to wash and dry clean an American flag.

8. Burn or Bury It: It’s Okay In United States Flag History

When a flag is considered to be beyond the point where it can be repaired, you can’t simply throw the flag away. To show proper respect to our flag, it must be respectfully gotten rid of by burying it or burning it.

united states flag history

Image from Beverly & Pack  on Flickr.com

9. Old Glory Still Exists

The nickname “Old Glory” was coined by a man named William Driver in 1824. He was a sea captain who eventually settled in Tennessee. The flag was eventually given as a gift to President Harding, who eventually gave it as a gift to the Smithsonian, where it still lives today.

10. American Flags On the Moon

There are six American flags currently planted on the moon and it is the only flag in outer space. Although both China and the USSR landed spacecrafts on the moon, neither of them have men or women inside to plant a flag on the surface of the moon. The United States, on the other hand, did this six times.

11. The 39-Star Flag

In 1889, many people expected North and South Dakota to be admitted to the Union as one state. As a result, people began to manufacture a new flag designed this way so they could be the first ones to sell it. However, we skipped straight from a 38 star flag to a 43 star flag in 1890 when three more states were added to the Union.

12. The 50-Star Flag That We Know Today

The 50 star flag we know and love today was designed by a 17 year old high school student from Ohio named Robert G. Heft. He and two other people submitted the design to President Eisenhower in 1960 after Hawaii was the last state admitted to the Union.

13. The Failed “Flag Desecration” Amendment

In 2006 there was an amendment proposed to the Constitution that would have made it illegal to burn the flag for political reasons. The same amendment would have made it illegal to print the American flag on disposable items such as napkins. It did not pass. The amendment is slightly ironic as burning a flag is considered a respectable way to retire a flag that can’t be flown or repaired anymore.

14. Martin Van Buren’s Claim To United States Flag History

Our 8th president, Martin Van Buren, was the first president to be born in our country with the Stars and Stripes flying proudly over head. He was born in 1782.

15. United States Flag History and Flag Day

The date that we celebrate Flag Day has changed several times over the years. The first time that we know of anyone celebrating Flag Day was June 14, 1885. The idea was started by a teacher who displayed a small flag on his desk and asked his students to write essays about it’s significance.

16. Pledge of Allegiance Is A Recent Part of United States Flag History

The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 in honor of the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage. It wasn’t said by members of Congress until 1988.

17. Flag Desecration and the United States Flag History

Although the proposed Constitutional amendment about burning the flag was not passed in 2006, that wasn’t the first time there were any mention of flag desecration laws. In fact, there were lots of different laws at the federal and state levels that made it illegal to do certain acts with the flag. These laws were found to be unconstitutional in 1989.

The Flag Code that talks about how we should and should not treat the flag is part of law, but it isn’t unconstitutional because there are no penalties for people who don’t follow it.

To learn more about the our flag, this video by the National Constitution Center is a nice roundup of United States Flag history. It talks about some of the common myths of American flag going all the way back to the American Revolution.

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