What is Flag Day?
Flag Day is a celebration of the American flag that occurs on its anniversary, June 14.
What we know fondly as the “Stars and Stripes” was adopted by the Continental Congress as the official American flag on June 14, 1777, in the midst of the Revolutionary War. Colonial troops fought under many different flags with various symbols and slogans: rattlesnakes, pine trees, and eagles; “Don’t Tread on Me,” “Liberty or Death,” and “Conquer or Die,” to name a few.
The first national flag had 13 stars on a blue field and 13 alternating red and white stripes for the 13 original colonies. Now there are 50 stars, one for each state in the Union, but the 13 stripes remain. Although many people believe that Betsy Ross designed and sewed the first flag, there is no proof of that. Flag Day was first celebrated in 1877, on the flag’s 100th birthday.
History of the American Flag
January 1, 1776: The first United States flag, the “Grand Union,” was displayed by George Washington. It became the unofficial national flag, preceding the 13-star, 13-stripe version.
June 14, 1777: The Stars and Stripes was adopted by the Continental Congress as the Flag of the United States.
June 14, 1877: Flag Day was observed nationally for the first time on the 100th anniversary of the Stars and Stripes.
June 14, 1937: Pennsylvania became the first state in the United States to celebrate Flag Day officially as a state holiday.
July 4, 1960: The new 50-star flag was flown for the first time, and it is the flag that still flies today.
Why are red, white, and blue the flag colors?
The Continental Congress left no record as to why it chose these colors. However, in 1782 the Congress of the Articles of Confederation chose the colors for the Great Seal of the United States with these meanings: white for purity and innocence; red for valor and hardiness; and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice. According to the End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the colors originated with the British flag, which is called the Union Jack and is a combination of the Scottish cross of St. Andrew (white on blue) and the English cross of St. George (red on white).
Where can the American flag be flown 24 hours a day?
There are ten places where flying the flag around the clock is permissible. Do you think you can guess them?
- The Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia
- The White House
- The U.S. Capitol
- The Iwo Jima Memorial to U.S. Marines in Arlington, Virginia
- The Revolutionary War battleground in Lexington, Massachusetts
- The site of George Washington’s winter encampment at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
- Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland
- The Jenny Wade House in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (Jenny Wade was the only civilian killed in the Battle of Gettysburg, during the Civil War)
- The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor
- All customs points of entry into the United States
- Any US Navy ship that is under way
The flag may also be flown 24 hours a day anywhere it may be flown in the day, provided it is properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.
These are hardly the only guidelines for flying the American flag, so be sure to check out the others this Flag Day!
Flag Day is just one of many patriotic celebrations in the United States. Learn about George Washington’s birthday in our article on President’s Day, and don’t forget to catch up on your Independence Day history!