Cover Story: History of Flag Day
“Since adoption of the Stars and Stripes, Americans — and people around the world — have continuously looked to our flag as a symbol of unity and liberty,” wrote President Biden last year on Flag Day. Like every year since 1916, the United States will celebrate the nation’s flag on June 14. Though Flag Day is not a federal holiday, it’s a day of observance and patriotism and coincides with the Army’s birthday.
The date is symbolic because on June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white,” and that “the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Thirteen was the number of states at the time. Francis Hopkinson, a delegate from New Jersey who signed the Declaration of Independence, designed the flag and Philadelphia seamstress Betsey Ross created the first one at George Washington’s request. There have been twenty-six official versions of the flag since then, with our current version dating back to 1960 after Hawaii joined the union.
How did Flag Day start?
Nearly a century after the first flag flew, celebrations of the flag itself began. A school teacher named Bernard J. Cigrand encouraged his students to learn about the flag and what it represents in 1885. In 1888, William T. Kerr, a native of Pittsburgh, founded the American Flag Day Association of Western Pennsylvania and became the national chairman of the American Flag Day Association one year later, serving in that position for 50 years.
President Woodrow Wilson was the first to make the celebration a nation-wide event, unofficially proclaiming June 14 “Flag Day” in 1916. Wilson proclaimed, “The Flag has vindicated its right to be honored by all nations of the world and feared by none who do righteousness.” But, it wasn’t until 1949 that President Truman signed an Act of Congress recognizing the holiday of Flag Day annually, commemorating the anniversary of the adoption of the American flag.
Most of the country honors the day by displaying flags and educating students about the nation’s history. The Flag Code calls for such care as never letting the flag touch the ground and refraining from wearing the flag as clothing or using it as advertising. The Betsy Ross Home in Philadelphia hosts an annual Flag Fest and nationwide flags are displayed in front of public buildings. Some places celebrate the full “National Flag Week.”
In his 2021 Flag Day Proclamation, Biden wrote, “As we continue the sacred work of building a more perfect Union together, let our flag serve as a reminder to us, and to the world, that America stands for and strives for the promise of freedom, justice, and equality for all.”
It is in that same spirit we hope Americans look to Flag Day 2022 as a symbol of unity and love for our country.