The American Flag is a symbol of power and a symbol of freedom known across the globe. With it's 50 stars and 13 stripes, the American flag represents not just the country, but the way the people of the country live their lives. However, the stars and stripes hasn’t always looked the way that we recognize it today.
In fact, the original incarnation of the United States Flag may surprise you to find out that while it maintained the thirteen red and white stripes, a version of the British Union Jack was flown where the stars now adorn. The flag flown under the name the “Grand Union” was most commonly used by George Washington during the Revolutionar War, while it never obtained “official” status as the flag of the United States.
The first official flag had thirteen stars and thirteen stripes, representing the original thirteen colonies that made up the first states in the union. Unfortunately, this is all we can say for certain about the flag as much controversy surrounds who actually designed the first official flag of the United States of America.
One theory is that Betsy Ross, a seamstress from the city of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania, was approached by soon-to-be President George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross in 1777 and was asked if she could create the flag they had drawn on a piece of parchment.
According to sworn affidavits by members of her family, her response to these three men was “I do not know, but I will try.” Thus, the Betsy Ross 13-Star American Flag was born. While there are several versions of 13-Star American Flags, the Betsy Ross version most of us recognize did not appear until the 1790’s and has the 13 Stars arranged to create a circle. As the story goes, Ross also suggested to the three men using five-point stars instead of six-point stars on the flag, showing them how easy it would be with one snip of her scissors.
Another theory, which is given more credence by historians, is that the very first official United States flag was created by Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence; he was largely responsible for the creation of the earlier Grand Union Flag. At the time the resolution was approved for the new flag, Hopkinson was Chairman of the Continental Navy Board's Middle Department. Hopkinson also played a large role in the design of the Seal of the United States of America.
This was just the beginning of the changes that American Flags would undergo. Following the 13-star flag, a 15-Star version of the U.S. flag was born in 1795 and was the flag which inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner,” a song destined to become the national anthem of the new born nation.
In the following years the flag did not change until 1818, when a plan was passed by Congress at the suggestion of U.S. Naval Captain Samuel C. Reid. This act increased the star count on the flag to 20, while maintaining the original thirteen stripes to symbolize the original thirteen colonies. The act also included a provision stating that as new states are admitted to the union, a new star would be added to the flag on the following Fourth of July.
As the flag displays today, it maintains 50 stars and 13 stripes, representing the 50 states of the union and 13 original colonies. However, we may not yet have seen the end of the addition of stars to the flag. Territories possessed by the United States hold the potential to join the union as an official state providing additional updates to our United States Flags of the future!
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