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Wayne Adult Community Center

Feature article from the July, 2001 Newsletter

THE HISTORY OF OUR FLAG

The use of flags dates far back in human history.  Not only do nations fly emblems, but institutions such as corporations fly flags as well.  Also, "noble" European families have long flown flags bearing the families’ coats of arms.

For a century and a half following the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620, the Flag of England served as America's flag.  However in 1775, as the desire for independence grew in the colonies, the Pine Flag was adopted for all colonial vessels, and was carried by the Continental forces in the battle of Bunker Hill.  

Later that same year, a committee of the Continental Congress recommended the first thirteen-stripe national flag, bearing the red and white crosses of Saints George and Andrew in an azure upper corner.  That flag flew above George Washington's Cambridge headquarters early in 1776 and was used by the Continental Navy, but was never carried by its land forces.

Dissatisfaction with the flag design prompted the new nation's congress in 1777 to approve a design "more representative of our country".  It had thirteen stripes and thirteen stars.  Two more stars were added in 1795 in response to the entry of Vermont and Kentucky to the Union.  The War of 1812 was fought under the new banner, and the sight of it following a nightlong British bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814 inspired the writing of the poem that eventually became the words to our national anthem.

In 1818, the Congress increased the number of stars to 21, one for each state then in the Union, and resolved that a star should thereafter be added for each new state.  However, the flag remained unchanged until 1912, when 28 new stars were added.  That brought the total to 48, and the 48-star flag flew over the nation for almost another half century.

In 1959, a star was added for Alaska, the first state not contiguous with the other 48.  In 1960, the 50th star was added for Hawaii, the country’s first island state.

Our thanks to Anton Oswald for providing the text from which this article is excerpted.


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