Deeply embedded in our American mythos is the story of the seamstress Betsy Ross being commissioned by General George Washington to create a flag for the newly formed United States.
According to the Library of Congress, Ross sewed American flags in the Ross family’s Philadelphia upholstery shop and probably met Washington, but was not the designer of the first flag.
Instead, the credit is given to Francis Hopkinson. Hopkinson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. The only evidence pointing to him as the designer of the flag is a bill he submitted to Congress “for designing the flag, you owe me two casks of ale.”
There is no picture, sketch, or written description of the original flag, so the designer cannot be indisputably identified, but the legend of Betsy Ross as the designer and maker of the first flag of the Revolutionary Period is so ingrained, the flag is referred to as “The Betsy Ross.”
On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress approved the design of a national flag. The original was 13 stripes and 13 stars to represent the 13 colonies. When two states were added, Congress passed a 2nd flag act to add a strip and a star for each additional state. This 15 star and 15 strip flag was known as The Star-Spangled Banner, and flew over Fort McHenry during the war of 1812. It was this flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the song that became the National Anthem.
In 1818, Congress passed the 3rd flag act which took the design back to the original 13 alternating red and white stripes representing each of the 13 colonies, with one star representing each state on a blue background. Now as states entered the Union, a star would be added to the flag.
The shape and arrangement of the stars were left to the flag makers preference until 1912, when President William Howard Taft standardized the star patterns.
President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation in 1916 establishing a national Flag Day on June 14. In 1949, President Harry Truman signed into law legislation passed by Congress designating June 14 National Flag Day.
The current version of the flag dates to July 4, 1960, after Hawaii became the 50th state on Aug. 21, 1959.
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Lorna Hart is a freelance writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.