Flag of the United States
|Name||The Stars and Stripes; Red, White and Blue; Old Glory; The Star-Spangled Banner|
|Use||National flag and ensign|
|Adopted||June 14, 1777 (original 13-star version)July 4, 1960 (current 50-star version)|
|Design||Thirteen horizontal stripes alternating red and white; in the canton, 50 white stars on a blue field|
The national flag of the United States of America, often simply referred to as the American flag, consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white, with a blue rectangle in the canton (referred to specifically as the “union”) bearing fifty small, white, five-pointed stars arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternating with rows of five stars. The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states of the United States of America and the 13 stripes represent the thirteen British colonies that declared independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain and became the first states in the Union. Nicknames for the flag include the “Stars and Stripes”, “Old Glory“, and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The modern meaning of the flag was forged in December 1860 when Major Robert Anderson, acting without orders, moved the U.S. garrison from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, in defiance of the power of the new Confederate States of America. Adam Goodheart argues this was the opening move of the Civil War, and the flag was used throughout the North to symbolize American nationalism and rejection of secessionism.
Before that day, the flag had served mostly as a military ensign or a convenient marking of American territory, flown from forts, embassies, and ships, and displayed on special occasions like the Fourth of July. But in the weeks after Major Anderson’s surprising stand, it became something different. Suddenly the Stars and Stripes flew—as it does today, and especially as it did after the September 11 attacks in 2001—from houses, from storefronts, from churches; above the village greens and college quads. For the first time American flags were mass-produced rather than individually stitched and even so, manufacturers could not keep up with demand. As the long winter of 1861 turned into spring, that old flag meant something new. The abstraction of the Union cause was transfigured into a physical thing: strips of cloth that millions of people would fight for, and many thousands die for.
The flag of the United States is one of the nation’s most widely recognized symbols. Within the United States, flags are frequently displayed not only on public buildings but on private residences. The flag is a common motif on decals for car windows, and clothing ornaments such as badges and lapel pins. Throughout the world the flag has been used in public discourse to refer to the United States, not only as a nation, state, government, and set of policies, but also as a set of ideals.
The flag has become a powerful symbol of Americanism, and is proudly flown on many occasions, with giant outdoor flags used by retail outlets to draw customers. Desecration of the flag is considered a public outrage, but remains protected as freedom of speech. In worldwide comparison, Testi (2010) notes that the United States is not unique in adoring its banner, for in Scandinavian countries their flags are also “beloved, domesticated, commercialized and sacralized objects”.
- Hoist (width) of the flag: A = 1.0
- Fly (length) of the flag: B = 1.9
- Hoist (width) of the canton (“union”): C = 0.5385 (A × 7/13, spanning seven stripes)
- Fly (length) of the canton: D = 0.76 (B × 2/5, two-fifths of the flag length)
- E = F = 0.0538 (C/10, One-tenth of the width of the canton)
- G = H = 0.0633 (D/12, One twelfth of the length of the canton)
- Diameter of star: K = 0.0616 (L × 4/5, four-fifths of the stripe width, the calculation only gives 0.0616 if L is first rounded to 0.077)
- Width of stripe: L = 0.0769 (A/13, One thirteenth of the flag width)
These specifications are contained in an executive order which, strictly speaking, governs only flags made for or by the U.S. federal government. In practice, most U.S. national flags available for sale to the public have a different length-to-width ratio; common sizes are 2 × 3 ft. or 4 × 6 ft. (flag ratio 1.5), 2.5 × 4 ft. or 5 × 8 ft. (1.6), or 3 × 5 ft. or 6 × 10 ft. (1.667). Even flags flown over the U.S. Capitol for sale to the public through Representatives or Senators are provided in these sizes. Flags that are made to the prescribed 1.9 ratio are often referred to as “G-spec” (for “government specification”) flags.
The exact red, white, and blue colors to be used in the flag are specified with reference to the CAUS Standard Color Reference of America, 10th edition. Specifically, the colors are “White”, “Old Glory Red”, and “Old Glory Blue”. The CIE coordinates for the colors of the 9th edition of the Standard Color Card were formally specified in JOSA in 1946. These colors form the standard for cloth, and there is no perfect way to convert them to RGB for display on screen or CMYK for printing. The “relative” coordinates in the following table were found by scaling the luminous reflectance relative to the flag’s “white”.
|CIELAB D65||Munsell||CIELAB D50||sRGB||GRACoL 2006|
|Old Glory Red||33.9||51.2||24.7||5.5R||3.3/11.1||39.9||57.3||28.7||.698||.132||.203||#B22234||.196||1.000||.757||.118|
|Old Glory Blue||23.2||13.1||−26.4||8.2PB||2.3/6.1||26.9||11.5||−30.3||.234||.233||.430||#3C3B6E||.886||.851||.243||.122|
As with the design, the official colors are only officially required for flags produced for the U.S. federal government, and other colors are often used for mass-market flags, printed reproductions, and other products intended to evoke flag colors. The practice of using more saturated colors than the official cloth is not new. As Taylor, Knoche, and Granville wrote in 1950: “The color of the official wool bunting [of the blue field] is a very dark blue, but printed reproductions of the flag, as well as merchandise supposed to match the flag, present the color as a deep blue much brighter than the official wool.”
Sometimes, Pantone Matching System (PMS) approximations to the flag colors are used. One set was given on the website of the U.S. embassy in London as early as 1998; the website of the U.S. embassy in Stockholm claimed in 2001 that those had been suggested by Pantone, and that the U.S. Government Printing Office preferred a different set. A third red was suggested by a California Military Department document in 2002. In 2001, the Texas legislature specified that the colors of the Texas flag should be “(1) the same colors used in the United States flag; and (2) defined as numbers 193 (red) and 281 (dark blue) of the Pantone Matching System.”
|Source||PMS||CIELAB D50||sRGB||GRACoL 2006|
|U.S. Emb., London||193 C||42.1||64.4||26.7||.756||.076||.238||#C1133D||.165||1.000||.678||.063|
|U.S. Emb., Stockholm||186 C||44.1||67.8||37.9||.800||.048||.185||#CC0C2F||.122||1.000||.796||.035|
|CA Mil. Dept.||200 C||41.1||64.2||30.8||.745||.051||.203||#BE0D34||.169||1.000||.749||.074|
The 49- and 50-star unions 
When Alaska and Hawaii were being considered for statehood in the 1950s, more than 1,500 designs were spontaneously submitted to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although some of them were 49-star versions, the vast majority were 50-star proposals. At least three of these designs were identical to the present design of the 50-star flag. At the time, credit was given by the executive department to the United States Army Institute of Heraldry for the design.
Of these proposals, one created by 17-year-old Robert G. Heft in 1958 as a school project received the most publicity. His mother was a seamstress, but refused to do any of the work for him. He originally received a B– for the project. After discussing the grade with his teacher, it was agreed (somewhat jokingly) that if the flag was accepted by Congress, the grade would be reconsidered. Heft’s flag design was chosen and adopted by presidential proclamation after Alaska and before Hawaii was admitted into the Union in 1959. According to Heft, his teacher did keep to their agreement and changed his grade to an A for the project. Both the 49- and 50-star flags were each flown for the first time ever at Fort McHenry on the Fourth of July one year apart, 1959 and 1960 respectively.
Traditionally, the flag may be decorated with golden fringe surrounding the perimeter of the flag as long as it does not deface the flag proper. Ceremonial displays of the flag, such as those in parades or on indoor posts, often use fringe to enhance the beauty of the flag.
The first recorded use of fringe on a flag dates from 1835, and the Army used it officially in 1895. No specific law governs the legality of fringe, but a 1925 opinion of the attorney general addresses the use of fringe (and the number of stars) “… is at the discretion of the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy …” as quoted from footnote in previous volumes of Title 4 of the United States Code law books and is a source for claims that such a flag is a military ensign not civilian. However, according to the Army Institute of Heraldry, which has official custody of the flag designs and makes any change ordered, there are no implications of symbolism in the use of fringe. Several federal courts have upheld this conclusion. Traditionally, the Army and Air Force use a fringed National Color for parade, color guard and indoor display, while the Sea Services (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard) use a fringeless National Color for all uses.
Display and use 
The flag is customarily flown all year-round at most public buildings, and it is not unusual to find private houses flying full-size (3′ x 5′) flags. Some private use is year-round, but becomes widespread on civic holidays like Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Presidents’ Day, Flag Day, and on Independence Day. On Memorial Day it is common to place small flags by war memorials and next to the graves of U.S. war veterans. Also on Memorial Day it is common to fly the flag at half staff, until noon, in remembrance of those who lost their lives fighting in U.S. wars.
Flag etiquette 
The United States Flag Code outlines certain guidelines for the use, display, and disposal of the flag. For example, the flag should never be dipped to any person or thing, unless it is the ensign responding to a salute from a ship of a foreign nation. This tradition may come from the 1908 Summer Olympics in London, where countries were asked to dip their flag to King Edward VII: the American flag bearer did not. Team captain Martin Sheridan is famously quoted as saying “this flag dips to no earthly king”, though the true provenance of this quotation is unclear.
The flag should never be allowed to touch the ground and, if flown at night, must be illuminated. If the edges become tattered through wear, the flag should be repaired or replaced. When a flag is so tattered that it can no longer serve as a symbol of the United States, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner, preferably by burning. The American Legion and other organizations regularly conduct flag retirement ceremonies, often on Flag Day, June 14. (The Boy Scouts of America recommends that modern nylon or polyester flags be recycled instead of burned, due to hazardous gases being produced when such materials are burned.)
Significantly, the Flag Code prohibits using the flag “for any advertising purpose” and also states that the flag “should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use”. Both of these codes are generally ignored, almost always without comment.
One of the most commonly ignored and misunderstood aspects of the Flag Code is section 8. “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery.” Section 3 of the Flag Code defines a flag for the purposes of the code. Contrary to popular belief, the U.S. Flag Code does permit the use of flag design in fashion et cetera, provided that such a design was not formed using the actual design of the flag. The wearing of any article of clothing representing the flag is allowed, however, the flag itself is not.
Although the Flag Code is U.S. federal law, it is only binding on government institutions displaying the flag: there is no penalty for a private citizen or group failing to comply with the Flag Code and it is not widely enforced—indeed, punitive enforcement would conflict with the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. Passage of the proposed Flag Desecration Amendment would overrule legal precedent that has been established.
Display on vehicles 
When the flag is affixed to the side of a vehicle of any kind (e.g.: cars, boats, planes, anything that moves), it should be oriented so that the canton is towards the front of the vehicle, as if the flag were streaming backwards from its hoist as the vehicle moves forward. Therefore, U.S. flag decals on the right sides of vehicles may appear to be “reversed”, with the union to the observer’s right instead of left as more commonly seen.
The flag has been displayed on every US spacecraft designed for manned flight, including Mercury, Gemini, Apollo Command/Service Module, Apollo Lunar Module, and the Space Shuttle. The flag also appeared on the S-IC first stage of the Saturn V launch vehicle used for Apollo. But since Mercury, Gemini and Apollo were launched and landed vertically and were not capable of horizontal atmospheric flight like an airplane, the “streaming” convention was not followed and these flags were oriented with the stripes running horizontally, perpendicular to the direction of flight.
Display on uniforms 
The crew of Apollo 1 wore their flags on the right shoulder, unlike all other US astronaut flight crews
On some U.S. military uniforms, flag patches are worn on the right shoulder, following the vehicle convention with the union toward the front. This rule dates back to the Army’s early history, when both mounted cavalry and infantry units would designate a standard bearer, who carried the Colors into battle. As he charged, his forward motion caused the flag to stream back. Since the Stars and Stripes are mounted with the canton closest to the pole, that section stayed to the right, while the stripes flew to the left. Several US military uniforms, such as flight suits worn by members of the United States Navy, have the flag patch on the left shoulder.
Other organizations that wear flag patches on their uniforms can have the flag facing in either direction. The uniform of the Boy Scouts of America, for example, has the stripes facing front, the reverse of the military style. Law enforcement officers often wear a small flag patch, either on a shoulder, or above a shirt pocket.
Every US astronaut since the crew of Gemini 4 has worn the flag on the left shoulder of his or her space suit, with the exception of the crew of Apollo 1, whose flags were worn on the right shoulder. In this case, the canton was on the left.
Postage stamps 
The flag did not appear on U.S. postal stamp issues until the Battle of White Plains Issue was released in 1926, depicting the flag with a circle of 13 stars. The 48-star flag first appeared on the General Casimir Pulaski issue of 1931, though in a small monochrome depiction. The first U.S. postage stamp to feature the flag as the sole subject was issued July 4, 1957, pictured (top).
Display in museums 
In 1907 Eben Appleton, New York stockbroker and grandson of Lieutenant Colonel George Armistead (the commander of Fort McHenry during the 1814 bombardment) lent the Star Spangled Banner Flag to the Smithsonian Institution, and in 1912 he converted the loan to a gift. Appleton donated the flag with the wish that it would always be on view to the public. In 1994, the National Museum of American History determined that the Star Spangled Banner Flag required further conservation treatment to remain on public display. In 1998 teams of museum conservators, curators, and other specialists helped move the flag from its home in the Museum’s Flag Hall into a new conservation laboratory. Following the reopening of the National Museum of American History on November 21, 2008, the flag is now on display in a special exhibition, “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem,” where it rests at a 10 degree angle in dim light for conservation purposes.
Places of continuous display 
By presidential proclamation, acts of Congress, and custom, U.S. flags are displayed continuously at certain locations.
- Replicas of the Star Spangled Banner Flag (15 stars, 15 stripes) are flown at two sites in Baltimore, Maryland: Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine and Flag House Square.
- Marine Corps War Memorial (Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia
- The Battle Green in Lexington, Massachusetts, site of the first shots fired in the Revolution
- The White House, Washington, D.C.
- Fifty U.S. flags are displayed continuously at the Washington Monument, Washington, D.C.
- At U.S. Customs and Border Protection Ports of Entry that are continuously open.
- A Civil War era flag (for the year 1863) flies above Pennsylvania Hall (Old Dorm) at Gettysburg College. This building, occupied by both sides at various points of the Battle of Gettysburg, served as a lookout and battlefield hospital.
- Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge NHP, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
- By custom, at the Maryland home, birthplace, and grave of Francis Scott Key; at the Worcester, Massachusetts, war memorial; at the plaza in Taos, New Mexico (since 1861); at the United States Capitol (since 1918); and at Mount Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood, South Dakota.
- Slover Mountain (Colton Liberty Flag), in Colton, California. July 4, 1917 to circa. 1952 & 1997 to present.
- At the ceremonial South Pole as one of the 12 flags representing the signatory countries of the original Antarctic Treaty.
- On the Moon: six manned missions successfully landed at various location and each had a flag raised at the site. Only the flag placed by the Apollo 11 mission was blown over by exhaust gases when the Ascent Stage launched to return the astronauts to their Command Module for return to Earth.
Particular days for display 
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The flag should especially be displayed at full staff on the following days:
- January: 1 (New Year’s Day) 3rd. Monday of the month (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s birthday) and 20 (Inauguration Day, once every four years)
- February: 12 (Lincoln‘s birthday) and the third Monday (Presidents’ Day, originally Washington‘s birthday which is the 22nd)
- May: Third Saturday (Armed Forces Day) and last Monday (Memorial Day; half-staff until noon)
- June: 14 (Flag Day)
- July: 4 (Independence Day)
- September: First Monday (Labor Day), 17th (Constitution Day)
- October: Second Monday (Columbus Day) and 27 (Navy Day)
- November: 11 (Veterans Day) and fourth Thursday (Thanksgiving Day)
- and such other days as may be proclaimed by the President of the United States; the birthdays of states (date of admission); and on state holidays.
Display at half-staff 
The flag is displayed at half-staff (half-mast in naval usage) as a sign of respect or mourning. Nationwide, this action is proclaimed by the president; state-wide or territory-wide, the proclamation is made by the governor. In addition, there is no prohibition against municipal governments, private businesses or citizens flying the flag at half-staff as a local sign of respect and mourning. However, many flag enthusiasts feel this type of practice has somewhat diminished the meaning of the original intent of lowering the flag to honor those who held high positions in federal or state offices. President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first proclamation on March 1, 1954, standardizing the dates and time periods for flying the flag at half-staff from all federal buildings, grounds, and naval vessels; other congressional resolutions and presidential proclamations ensued. However, they are only guidelines to all other entities: typically followed at state and local government facilities, and encouraged of private businesses and citizens.
To properly fly the flag at half-staff, one should first briefly hoist it top of the staff, then lower it to the half-staff position, halfway between the top and bottom of the staff. Similarly, when the flag is to be lowered from half-staff, it should be first briefly hoisted to the top of the staff.
Only state governors can decide to lower the flag to half staff, according to US Code.
Federal guidelines state the flag should be flown at half-staff at the following dates/times:
- May 15: Peace Officers Memorial Day, unless it is the third Saturday in May, Armed Forces Day, full-staff all day
- Last Monday in May: Memorial Day (until noon)
- July 27: Korean War Veterans Day (expired 2003—reinstated 2009)
- September 11: Patriot Day
- First Sunday in October: Start of Fire Prevention Week.
- December 7: National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day
- For 30 days: Death of a president or former president
- For 10 days: Death of a vice president, Supreme Court chief justice/retired chief justice, or speaker of the House of Representatives.
- From death until the day of interment: Supreme Court associate justice, member of the Cabinet, former vice president, president pro-tempore of the Senate, or the majority and minority leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives. Also for federal facilities within a state or territory, for the governor.
- On the day after the death: Senators, members of Congress, territorial delegates or the resident commissioner of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico
Further, the flag is always flown at half-staff at four locations in the United States. These locations are The Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery; Arlington House at Arlington National Cemetery; the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, and Mackinac Island, Michigan (Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery).
Folding for storage 
Though not part of the official Flag Code, according to military custom, flags should be folded into a triangular shape when not in use. To properly fold the flag:
- Begin by holding it waist-high with another person so that its surface is parallel to the ground.
- Fold the lower half of the stripe section lengthwise over the field of stars, holding the bottom and top edges securely.
- Fold the flag again lengthwise with the blue field on the outside.
- Make a rectangular fold then a triangular fold by bringing the striped corner of the folded edge to meet the open top edge of the flag, starting the fold from the left side over to the right.
- Turn the outer end point inward, parallel to the open edge, to form a second triangle.
- The triangular folding is continued until the entire length of the flag is folded in this manner (usually thirteen triangular folds, as shown at right). On the final fold, any remnant that does not neatly fold into a triangle (or in the case of exactly even folds, the last triangle) is tucked into the previous fold.
- When the flag is completely folded, only a triangular blue field of stars should be visible.
There is also no specific meaning for each fold of the flag. However, there are scripts read by non-government organizations and also by the Air Force that are used during the flag folding ceremony. These scripts range from either a historical timeline about the flag or have religious themes.
Use in funerals 
Traditionally, the flag of the United States plays a role in military funerals, and occasionally in funerals of other civil servants (such as law enforcement officers, fire fighters, and U.S. presidents). A burial flag is draped over the deceased’s casket as a pall during services. Just prior to the casket being lowered into the ground, the flag is ceremonially folded and presented to the deceased’s next of kin as a token of respect.
The design of the flag has been modified 26 times officially, since 1777. The 48-star flag was in effect for 47 years until the 49-star version became official on July 4, 1959. The 50-star flag was ordered by President Eisenhower on August 21, 1959.
First flag 
Flag of the British East India Company, 1707–1801
At the time of the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress would not legally adopt flags with “stars, white in a blue field” for another year. The flag contemporaneously known as “the Continental Colors” has historically been referred to as the first national flag.
The Continental Navy raised the Colors as the ensign of the fledgling nation in the American War for Independence—likely with the expedient of transforming their previous British red ensigns by adding white stripes—and would use this flag until 1777, when it would form the basis for the subsequent de jure designs.
The name “Grand Union” was first applied to the Continental Colors by George Preble in his 1872 history of the American flag.
The flag closely resembles the British East India Company flag of the era, and Sir Charles Fawcett argued in 1937 that the Company flag inspired the design. Both flags could have been easily constructed by adding white stripes to a British Red Ensign, the maritime flag used throughout the British Empire. However, an East India Company flag could have from nine to 13 stripes, and was not allowed to be flown outside the Indian Ocean.
In any case, both the stripes (barry) and the stars (mullets) have precedents in classical heraldry. Mullets were comparatively rare in early modern heraldry, but an example of mullets representing territorial divisions predating the US flag are those in the coat of arms of Valais of 1618, where seven mullets stood for seven districts.
The Flag Resolution of 1777 
On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” Flag Day is now observed on June 14 of each year. While scholars still argue about this, tradition holds that the new flag was first hoisted in June 1777 by the Continental Army at the Middlebrook encampment.
The 1777 resolution was most probably meant to define a naval ensign. In the late 18th century, the notion of national flag did not yet exist, or was only nascent. The flag resolution appears between other resolutions from the Marine Committee. On May 10, 1779, Secretary of the Board of War Richard Peters expressed concern “it is not yet settled what is the Standard of the United States.”
The Flag Resolution did not specify any particular arrangement, number of points, nor orientation for the stars. One famous arrangement features 13 outwardly-oriented five-pointed stars arranged in a circle, the so-called Betsy Ross flag. Although the Betsy Ross legend is controversial, the design is among the earliest 13-star flags. Popular designs at the time were varied and most were individually crafted rather than mass-produced. Examples of 13-star arrangements can be found on other flags attributed to Francis Hopkinson, the Cowpens flag, and the Brandywine flag. Given the scant archaeological and written evidence, it is unknown if one design was the most popular during the period.
Despite the 1777 resolution, a number of flags only loosely based on the prescribed design were used in the early years of American independence. One example may have been the Guilford Court House Flag, traditionally believed to have been carried by the American troops at the Battle of Guilford Court House in 1781. Other evidence suggests it dates only to the nineteenth century. The original flag is at the North Carolina Historical Museum.
The origin of the stars and stripes design is inadequately documented. The apocryphal story credits Betsy Ross for sewing the first flag from a pencil sketch handed to her by George Washington. No evidence for this exists; indeed, nearly a century had passed before Ross’ grandson, William Canby, first publicly suggested it. Another woman, Rebecca Young, has also been credited as having made the first flag by later generations of her family. Young’s daughter was Mary Pickersgill, who made the Star Spangled Banner Flag. According to rumour, the Washington family coat of arms, shown in a 15th-century window of Selby Abbey, was the origin of the stars and stripes.
It is clear that Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed the 1777 flag while he was the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department, sometime between his appointment to that position in November 1776 and the time that the flag resolution was adopted in June 1777. This contradicts the Betsy Ross legend, which suggests that she sewed the first Stars and Stripes flag by request of the government in the Spring of 1776. Hopkinson was the only person to have made such a claim during his own lifetime, when he sent a bill to Congress for his work. He asked for a “Quarter Cask of the Public Wine” as payment initially. The payment was not made, however, because it was determined he had already received a salary as a member of Congress, and he was not the only person to have contributed to the design.
Later flag acts 
In 1795, the number of stars and stripes was increased from 13 to 15 (to reflect the entry of Vermont and Kentucky as states of the Union). For a time the flag was not changed when subsequent states were admitted, probably because it was thought that this would cause too much clutter. It was the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “Defense of Fort McHenry,” later known as “The Star-Spangled Banner”, which is now the American national anthem. The flag is currently on display in the exhibition, “The Star-Spangled Banner: The Flag That Inspired the National Anthem” at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History in a two-story display chamber that protects the flag while it is on view.
On April 4, 1818, a plan was passed by Congress at the suggestion of U.S. Naval Captain Samuel C. Reid in which the flag was changed to have 20 stars, with a new star to be added when each new state was admitted, but the number of stripes would be reduced to 13 so as to honor the original colonies. The act specified that new flag designs should become official on the first July 4 (Independence Day) following admission of one or more new states. The most recent change, from 49 stars to 50, occurred in 1960 when the present design was chosen, after Hawaii gained statehood in August 1959. Before that, the admission of Alaska in January 1959 prompted the debut of a short-lived 49-star flag.
Prior to the adoption of the 48-star flag in 1912, there was no official arrangement of the stars in the canton, although the Army and Navy used standardized designs. Throughout the 19th century there were a plethora of star patterns, rectangular and circular.
On July 4, 2007, the 50-star flag became the version of the flag in longest use.
The “Flower Flag” arrives in Asia 
The U.S. flag was brought to the city of Canton (Guǎngzhōu) in China in 1785 by the merchant ship Empress of China, which carried a cargo of ginseng. There it gained the designation “Flower Flag” (Chinese: 花旗; pinyin: huāqí; Cantonese Yale: fākeì). According to author and U.S. Naval officer George H. Preble:
When the thirteen stripes and stars first appeared at Canton much curiosity was excited among the people. News was circulated that a strange ship had arrived from the farther end of the world, bearing a flag as beautiful as a flower. Everybody went to see the Kaw-kee-cheun [花旗船], or flower-flag ship. This name at once established itself in the language, and America is now called Kaw-kee-koh [Chinese: 花旗國; pinyin: Huāqíguó; Cantonese Yale: Fākeìgwok], the flower-flag country, and an American, Kah-kee-koh-yin [花旗國人], flower flag country man,—a more complimentary designation than that of red-headed barbarian [ang-moh-lang], the name first bestowed on the Dutch.
In the above quote, the Chinese words are written phonetically based on spoken Cantonese. The names given were common usage in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Other Asian nations have equivalent terms for America, for example Vietnamese: Hoa Kỳ (“Flower Flag”). Chinese nowadays refer to the United States as simplified Chinese: 美国; traditional Chinese: 美國; pinyin: Měiguó. Měi is short for Měilìjiān (a Chinese pronunciation of “America”) and “guó” means “country”, so this name is unrelated to the flag. However, the “flower flag” terminology persists in some places today; for example, American Ginseng is called simplified Chinese: 花旗参; traditional Chinese: 花旗參; literally “flower flag ginseng” in Chinese.
The U.S. flag took its first trip around the world in 1787–90 on board the Columbia. William Driver, who coined the phrase “Old Glory”, took the U.S. flag around the world in 1831–32. The flag attracted the notice of Japanese when an oversized version was carried to Yokohama by the steamer Great Republic as part of a round-the-world journey in 1871.
Historical progression of designs 
In the following table depicting the 28 various designs of the United States flag, the star patterns for the flags are merely the usual patterns, often associated with the United States Navy. Canton designs, prior to the proclamation of the 48-star flag, had no official arrangement of the stars. Furthermore, the exact colors of the flag were not standardized until 1934.
|Number of stars||Number of stripes||Design(s)||States represented by new stars||Dates in use||Duration|
|0||13||N/A||01775-12-03December 3, 1775 – June 14, 1777||018 !1 1⁄2 years|
|13||13||Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island||01777-06-14June 14, 1777 – May 1, 1795||215 !18 years|
|15||15||Vermont, Kentucky||01795-05-01May 1, 1795 – July 3, 1818||278 !23 years|
|20||13||Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee||01818-07-04July 4, 1818 – July 3, 1819||012 !1 year|
|21||13||Illinois||01819-07-04July 4, 1819 – July 3, 1820||012 !1 year|
|23||13||Alabama, Maine||01820-07-04July 4, 1820 – July 3, 1822||024 !2 years|
|24||13||Missouri||01822-07-04July 4, 1822 – July 3, 1836 1831 term “Old Glory” coined||168 !14 years|
|25||13||Arkansas||01836-07-04July 4, 1836 – July 3, 1837||012 !1 year|
|26||13||Michigan||01837-07-04July 4, 1837 – July 3, 1845||096 !8 years|
|27||13||Florida||01845-07-04July 4, 1845 – July 3, 1846||012 !1 year|
|28||13||Texas||01846-07-04July 4, 1846 – July 3, 1847||012 !1 year|
|29||13||Iowa||01847-07-04July 4, 1847 – July 3, 1848||012 !1 year|
|30||13||Wisconsin||01848-07-04July 4, 1848 – July 3, 1851||036 !3 years|
|31||13||California||01851-07-04July 4, 1851 – July 3, 1858||084 !7 years|
|32||13||Minnesota||01858-07-04July 4, 1858 – July 3, 1859||012 !1 year|
|33||13||Oregon||01859-07-04July 4, 1859 – July 3, 1861||024 !2 years|
|34||13||Kansas||01861-07-04July 4, 1861 – July 3, 1863||024 !2 years|
|35||13||West Virginia||01863-07-04July 4, 1863 – July 3, 1865||024 !2 years|
|36||13||Nevada||01865-07-04July 4, 1865 – July 3, 1867||024 !2 years|
|37||13||Nebraska||01867-07-04July 4, 1867 – July 3, 1877||120 !10 years|
|38||13||Colorado||01877-07-04July 4, 1877 – July 3, 1890||156 !13 years|
|43||13||Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington||01890-07-04July 4, 1890 – July 3, 1891||012 !1 year|
|44||13||Wyoming||01891-07-04July 4, 1891 – July 3, 1896||060 !5 years|
|45||13||Utah||01896-07-04July 4, 1896 – July 3, 1908||144 !12 years|
|46||13||Oklahoma||01908-07-04July 4, 1908 – July 3, 1912||048 !4 years|
|48||13||Arizona, New Mexico||01912-07-04July 4, 1912 – July 3, 1959||564 !47 years|
|49||13||Alaska||01959-07-04July 4, 1959 – July 3, 1960||012 !1 year|
|50||13||Hawaii||01960-07-04July 4, 1960 – present||590 !52 years|