US Flag FAQs - History

Red, white, and blue make a vivid color combination, but have you ever wondered if there is any special meaning associated with those colors or with the five pointed white stars on our star spangled banner?

American FlagOn June 14, 1777, Congress adopted a resolution calling for a flag with thirteen stripes, alternating red and white, and with a blue canton or union, with thirteen white stars. The resolution defined the significance of the colors:  White signifies Purity and Innocence; Red, Hardiness and Valor; Blue, Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice.

The thirteen stripes and thirteen stars, of course, represented the original thirteen colonies. The five pointed stars used as a symbol in flag design was relatively rare until its incorporation into the American flag. It has since been used in many state flags and in foreign flags, including Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and the once sovereign nations of the Republic of Texas and the Kingdom of Hawaii. Based on the American usage, the star has come to be associated in flag design with unity, independence, or to represent the constituent parts of a nation.

Until 1818, an additional star and stripe was added as each new state was admitted to the Union. By 1816 it had become evident that the practice was not practical, and on April 4, 1816, a new scheme was made official. The Flag of the United States would have thirteen stripes, alternating red and white, and a blue canton on which a white star would be added for each state. Each star would be added to the flag on the July 4th following the admission of the new state to the Union.

Although the scheme of the flag was official, the law was vague about the exact layout of the flag. Thus, throughout the nineteenth century, a variety of star arrangements was in existence. The flag was very popular, and since it created a sense of unity among the states, the variations in its appearance were deemed unimportant.

In 1912, however, the government specified official patterns, proportions and colors, giving us the Flag we know today.

Important Things You Do Not Do with US Flags

It is generally not desirable to fly the flag outdoors when the weather is particularly inclement because exposure to severe winds and rain may damage the flag or the pole on which it is displayed.

Never in any way should disrespect be shown the U.S. flag. The U.S. flag should never be dipped to any person or thing. Regimental colors, State flags, and organization or institutional flags are dipped as a mark of honor.

The U.S. flag should never be displayed with the union down except as a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

The U.S. flag should never touch anything beneath it--ground, floor, water or merchandise.

The U.S. flag should never be carried horizontally, but it should always be aloft and free.

Always allow the U.S. flag to fall free--never use the U.S. flag as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery, festooned, decoration in general, use blue, white, and red bunting. Always arrange the bunting with blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below.

The U.S. flag should never be fastened, displayed, used or stored in a manner which will permit it to be easily torn, soiled or damaged in any way.

Never use the U.S. flag as a covering or drape for a ceiling.

Never place anything on the U.S. flag . The U.S. flag should never have placed upon it, or on any part of it, or attached to it, any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture or drawing of any nature.

Never use the U.S. flag for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything. The U.S. flag should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use or discard. Advertising signs should never be fastened to a staff or halyard from which the flag is flown.

Never use any part of the U.S. flag as a costume or athletic uniform. A flag patch may be affixed to uniforms of military personnel, firemen, policemen and members of patriotic organizations.

When the U.S. flag is in such condition that is no longer a fitting emblem for display, it should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning , privately.

Never display the U.S. flag from a float except from a staff, or so suspended that its folds fall free as though staffed.

The information presented is based on Public Law 94-344 94th Congress and Amendments thereto.

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