The national flag of the United States of America, often referred as US flag, consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternating with rows of five stars. The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America and the 13 stripes represent the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain and became the first states in the Union.
The design of the US flag has been modified 26 times officially since 1777. The 48-star flag was in effect for 47 years until the 49-star version became official on July 4, 1959. The 50-star flag was ordered by President Eisenhower on August 21, 1959.
The Grand Union Flag has historically been referred to as the First National US flag. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress would not legally adopt flags with “stars, white in a blue field”.
Francis Hopkinson’s design for a U.S. flag, featuring six-pointed stars arranged in rows.On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.
Hopkinson was the only person to have made such a claim during his own lifetime, when he sent a bill to Congress for his work. He asked for a “Quarter Cask of the Public Wine” as payment initially. The payment was not made, however, because it was determined he had already received a salary as a member of Congress, and he was not the only person to have contributed to the design.
In 1795, the number of stars and stripes was increased from 13 to 15 (to reflect the entry of Vermont and Kentucky as states of the Union). For a time the flag was not changed when subsequent states were admitted, probably because it was thought that this would cause too much clutter. It was the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “Defense of Fort McHenry” later known as “The Star Spangled Banner”, which is now the American national anthem.
On April 4, 1818, a plan was passed by Congress at the suggestion of U.S. Naval Captain Samuel C. Reid in which the flag was changed to have 20 stars, with a new star to be added when each new state was admitted, but the number of stripes would be reduced to 13 so as to honor the original colonies. The act specified that new flag designs should become official on the first July 4 (Independence Day) following admission of one or more new states. The most recent change, from 49 stars to 50, occurred in 1960 when the present design was chosen, after Hawaii gained statehood in August 1959. Before that, the admission of Alaska in January 1959 prompted the debut of a short-lived 49-star flag.
Prior to the adoption of the 48-star flag in 1912, there was no official arrangement of the stars in the canton, although the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy used standardized designs. Throughout the 19th century there were a plethora of star patterns, rectangular and circular.
On July 4, 2007, the 50-star flag became the version of the flag in longest use.
Traditionally a symbol of liberty, the American flag has carried the message of freedom to many parts of the world. Sometimes the same flag that was flying at a crucial moment in America’s history has been flown again in another place to symbolize continuity in the struggles for the cause of liberty.