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History of the Stars and Stripes (United States)

Last modified: 2000-10-07 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | stars and stripes | stars | stripes | points on stars |
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Thirteen Stars (1777/95)

The flag with the thirteen stars and stripes represented the thirteen original colonies.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Fifteen Stars (1795/1818)

The fifteen star American flag also has fifteen stripes. It is the "Star Spangled Banner" mentioned in the national anthem of the US. The two stars were added for Vermont and Kentucky.

The 15 star and stripe version is flown day and night at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland, a national park maintained by the U.S. government. This is the site of the Battle in 1814 that gave birth to the national Anthem of the US. It is lighted at night as is the current flag over the capital.
William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 21 February 1996
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Twenty Stars (1818/19)

The five stars were added for Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana and Mississippi. The flag had from then on thirteen stripes again.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Twenty-one Stars (1819/20)

A star added for Illinois.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Twenty-three Stars (1820/22)

Two stars were added for Alabama and Maine.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Twenty-four Stars (1822/36)

A star was added for Missouri.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996

In the early 19th century William Driver, a merchant seaman from Salem, Massachusetts, became captain of a US war ship, he wrote that he was impressed by the flag it flew and wrote "I shall call it 'Old Glory'" When he retired from the Navy he took his flag with him and settled in Tennessee and proudly flew the Old Glory from his home. When Tennessee left the Union it became unwise to fly Old Glory, and in fact it became necessary to hide it as the local Confederate forces knew about the flag and wanted to destroy it. This retired captain remained loyal to the Union, in spite of his state's secession. When Union troops occupied the area he lived in he took Old Glory out from its hiding place and flew it again from his home.

The Confederates had searched his house often trying to find this powerful symbol of the Federal government. The day he raised it again was the same day he had to take apart his bed quilt. He had sewn it inside the quilt, and slept with it every night.
R. Nathan Bliss, 22 February 1996
Nick Artimovich, 22 February 1996

There was a significant problem in the 20th century concerning this flag. A descendent of the good Captain maintained that the original flag was eaten by a mule long ago. The museum in Salem that claimed it had the original Old Glory disputed that statement. And the flag that the Smithsonian has on display as "Old Glory" has 34 stars, plus an anchor in the lower fly corner of the canton. (They say that the Captain kept "renewing" his flag upon the addition of states to the Union.)
Nick Artimovich, 22 February 1996


Twenty-five Stars (1836/37)

A star was added for Arkansas.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Twenty-six Stars (1837/45)

A star was added for Michigan.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Twenty-seven Stars (1845/46)

A star was added for Florida.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Twenty-eight Stars (1846/1847)

A star was added for Texas.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Twenty-nine Stars (1847/48)

A star was added for Iowa.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty Stars (1848/1851)

A star was added for Wisconsin.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty-one Stars (1851/1858)

A star was added for California.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty-two Stars (1858/59)

A star was added for Minnesota.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty-three Stars (1859/61)

A star was added for Oregon.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty-four Stars (1861/1863)

A star was added for Kansas.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty-five Stars (1863/65)

A star was added for West Virginia.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty-six Stars (1865/67)

A star was added for Nevada.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty-seven Stars (1867/77)

A star was added for Nebraska.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Thirty-eight Stars (1877/90)

A star was added for Colorado.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Forty-three Stars (1890/91)

Five stars were added for North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington and Idaho.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Forty-four Stars (1891/96)

A star was added for Wyoming.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Forty-five Stars (1896/1908)

A star was added for Utah.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Forty-six Stars (1908/12)

A star was added for Oklahoma.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Forty-eight Stars (1912/59)

Two stars were added for New Mexico and Arizona.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996

The American flag with forty-eight stars is called "Old Glory".

I believe that the 48 star flag of WWII vintage is flown over the marine corps monument in Arlington (the one depicting the flag raising on Iwo Jima).
William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 21 February 1996


Forty-nine Stars (1959/60)

A star was added for Alaska.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996


Fifty Stars (1960/NOW)

A star was added for Hawaii.
Nick Artimovich, 13 November 1996

According to President Dwight Eisenhower's Executive Order (#10834, published 25 August, 1959) the 50-Star flag would become the "official flag of the United States on July 4, 1960."
Nick Artimovich, 21 February 1996


Fifty-one Stars (future)


Number of points on the stars

Six, seven, eight pointed stars were nearly as common as five pointed stars prior to the end of the 18th century. The number of points on the stars was never specified by Congress.
Dave Martucci, 8 January 1998

George Washington's HQ flag of blue had six pointed stars on it.

Is it correct then to assume that the 5 pointed star came about in US flag history as another way to separate the country from Europe with their more numerous pointed stars?

It is also interesting to note that some Confederate flags of the Civil War had six pointed - and some even more - stars on them. The flag makers seemed to do so as a proper nod to heraldry.
Greg Biggs, 8 January 1998


Arrangements of the stars

The 1973 book The Stars and the Stripes by Mastai [mas73] illustrates many of the variations in star patterns of U.S. flags that were made during the 19th century (circles, rows, great stars, etc). There was no law specifying the arrangement of stars until 1912.
Nick Artimovich, 19 March 1996

As others have said, the pattern of stars was not established until 1912. The military services, however, did indeed establish regular patterns as early as 1818, but these were not binding on the public. Stars in rows were, of course, a very common design for commercially manufactured flags as it was simple to produce. Until the 1870's and '80's, the stars were sewn on (or "in") by hand, even if the stripes were machine sewn. It was not unusual to see home made flags, even mass produced flags, with the stars arranged in patterns such as these:

  1. all stars in two concentric circles or ovals
  2. most stars in concentric circles or ovals with a few stars inside or outside of these circles,
  3. all stars in a box with a space or two in the center for more
  4. stars arranged to form one large five-pointed star
  5. stars arranged in a "diamond" shape
  6. stars arranged like a flower ( just a really rounded star)
  7. any of the above arrangements with one much larger central star
  8. "brackets" or "parentheses" of stars at either side of the canton with the remaining stars arranged in between.
  9. seme, or no pattern at all!
The imagination of American flag makers was not limited to the above list, but those are the ones I own or recall seeing.
Nick Artimovich, 13 February 1996


Legal aspects

All versions of the U.S. flags ever used are still legal, as new versions have been authorized, but old versions have never been unauthorized.
William M. Grimes-Wyatt, 21 February 1996

According to President Dwight Eisenhower's Executive Order (#10834, published 25 August, 1959) the 50-Star flag would become the "official flag of the United States on July 4, 1960." The Order also states "All national flags...now in possession of executive agencies...shall be utilized until unserviceable."

Earlier, the White House had issued the following statement to the public:

"By law, the new 50-star flag will become the official flag of the United States on July 4, 1960, the birthday of the Union. Display of the new flags before that time would be improper. However, it would not be improper to display the 48-star and the 49-star flag after that date; with limited exceptions agencies of the Federal Government will continue to display the 48-star and the 49-star flag so long as they remain in good condition and until existing stocks of unused flags are exhausted. It is appropriate for all citizens to do the same." (21 August 1959)

The answer seems to be that only 50-star flags are "official" but it is appropriate to display earlier examples. A publication sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America states

"Historic U.S. flags are due the same honor and respect that are given today's colors. When a historic flag is carried or displayed with a present-day flag, the modern flag takes precedence."
These do not appear in the Flag Code nor the Executive Orders covering the flag, but they make sense.

Nick Artimovich, 21 February 1996


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