People fly the American flag many places on various holidays and occasions. The flag is a symbol for freedom that reminds us of our democratic government and our one nation under God. It gives honor and remembrance for those who have died serving our country in some way.
Today, the American flag has many nicknames that are used fondly. These include Old Glory; The Red, White, and Blue; The Star-Spangled Banner; and Stars and Stripes.
The first flags looked different from the flag we cherish today. American soldiers carried various kinds of flags with them to battle during the Revolutionary War. Some had pictures of pine trees on them; others had snakes or crosses. There was not one consistent, official flag. This was a problem because sometimes soldiers could not tell if someone was a friend or a foe.
Benjamin Franklin suggested in 1775 that the American colonies use one common flag. It was called The Grand Union flag. It had a small British flag in the canton or upper left-hand corner. The rest of the flag had 13 red and white stripes. Each stripe stood for one of the 13 colonies.
Two years later, in 1777, Congress decided the flag should look more American. They removed the British flag from the canton and replaced it with 13 stars. Just like the stripes, each star stood for one of the 13 colonies. But there were no stipulations as to how many points the stars should have or how they should be arranged. So, again, the colonists ended up using different flags.
A star and a stripe were added to the flag every time a new state was added to the United States.
A flag was needed to fly over Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. It had to be big so it would easily be seen from a distance. A woman named Mary Pickersgill was asked to sew such a flag. After the British bombed Fort McHenry for 25 hours, the large American flag was still flying. This was the flag Francis Scott Key was seeing when he wrote the poem that later became the National Anthem of the United States, The Star-Spangled Banner.
Five new states joined the United States in 1818. Members of Congress decided to add only a star to the flag for each new state and go back to 13 stripes for the original 13 colonies.
President William Howard Taft gave a particular order to the flag’s stars in 1912. There were, at that time, 48 states, so the chosen design was six rows of stars with eight stars in each row. Every star had one point facing the top. Now, at last, every American flag was the same!
In 1959 and 1960, when Alaska and Hawaii became states, two more stars were added, making 50 stars for 50 states.
Proper Guidelines Concerning the American Flag
Since we have a common flag, we also need common guidelines for flying and handling it. The National Flag Code, approved June 2, 1942, gives us rules for our symbol of freedom.
The flag should fly only from sunrise to sunset. It can only be displayed at night if in a well-lit place. When the national anthem is played, people show respect by standing, taking off their hats, and facing the flag.
The American flag should not touch anything beneath it such as the floor, ground, water, or any objects. It should not fly during inclement weather.
The flag should never be handled or tied in any way that would cause it to be easily and unnecessarily damaged.
There is a special procedure to follow when the flag to be flown at half-staff. It must first be raised to the top of the pole before being lowered to the half-staff position. When the flag is taken down at the end of the day, it must again be raised to the top before being lowered in order to be taken down.
The American Flag joins other symbols of freedom, the bald eagle, the Statue of Liberty, and the Pledge of Allegiance in standing for independence.