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.”
Prior to that, American soldiers fought under a number of different flags.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson marked the anniversary of that decree by officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day.
1. Bernard Cigrand, a small-town Wisconsin teacher, originated the idea for an annual flag day, to be celebrated every June 14. In 1885, he led his school in the first formal observance of the holiday. Cigrand, who later changed careers and practiced dentistry in Illinois, continued to promote his concept and advocate respect for the flag throughout his life.
2. It is widely believed that Betsy Ross, who assisted Revolutionary War effort by repairing uniforms and sewing tents, made and helped design the first American flag. However, there is no historical evidence that she contributed to Old Glory’s creation. It was not until her grandson William Canby held an 1870 press conference to recount the story that the American public learned of her possible role.
3. There have been 27 versions of the flag. From the 1777 original that had 13 stars and 13 stripes for the American colonies, there have been many iterations of the flag. Each time a state was added to the union, a star was added. We, of course, now stand with 50 stars and 13 stripes.
4. In the 1950s, when it seemed certain that Alaska would be admitted to the Union, designers began retooling the American flag to add a 49th star to the existing 48. Meanwhile, a 17-year-old Ohio student named Bob Heft borrowed his mother’s sewing machine, disassembled his family’s 48-star flag and stitched on 50 stars in a proportional pattern. He handed in his creation to his history teacher for a class project, explaining that he expected Hawaii would soon achieve statehood as well. Heft also sent the flag to his congressman, Walter Moeller, who presented it to President Eisenhower after both new states joined the Union. Eisenhower selected Heft’s design, and on July 4, 1960, the president and the high school student stood together as the 50-star flag was raised for the first time. Heft’s teacher promptly changed his grade from a B- to an A.
5. As stated above, there have been many changes to the design of the American Flag. But the one we currently observe is the longest running iteration of the symbol, likely because no states have been added to the union since 1959.
6. During the Vietnam War era, some demonstrators burned American flags as an act of protest. The Flag Protection Act of 1968 was enacted in response, making it illegal to burn or otherwise deface the Stars and Stripes. In two landmark decisions 20 years later, the Supreme Court ruled that the government couldn’t curb individuals’ First Amendment rights by prohibiting desecration of the flag.
7. The Red, White and Blue did not just happen by accident. The founding fathers wanted the colors to have meaning. Red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.
8. You have probably seen Neil Armstrong on the moon with an American flag, but he is not the only one to plant one on the lunar surface. Five additional Apollo missions, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17, ended with an astronaut with the “flying” of a flag.
9. The Flag Code strictly prohibits adding an insignia, drawing or other markings to the Stars and Stripes. Some politicians have been known to defy this regulation by signing copies of the flag for their supporters.
10. The flag that flew at Fort McHenry, immortalized by Francis Scott Key, is still around. A 2- by 5-inch swatch of it was sold at a 2011 auction for a whopping $38,000. The rest of the flag is on display at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.