Enlightening Facts About the American Flag You Didn't Know

American Flag Facts
What is the significance of the colors used in the American flag? Where is the flag flown year-round? What makes it so special for the Americans? Find the answers in these interesting facts about the United States flag.
Historyplex Staff
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Did You Know?
The American flag is the third-oldest in the world.
The American flag, nicknamed as Stars and Stripes or Old Glory, is the national symbol of the United States of America, representing the glorious history of this country. It is a symbol of the nation's spirit and is held in high regard by Americans all over the world.
Facts about the American Flag
The American flag is composed of thirteen equal horizontal stripes. Seven red stripes alternate with six white ones. A blue-colored rectangle in the upper left quarter of the flag bears fifty white five-pointed stars. They are arranged in nine horizontal rows. Those composed of six stars each alternate with rows composed of five stars.
Betsy Ross is believed to have made the first American flag in 1776. On George Washington's visit to her place, she supposedly changed the stars from six-pointed to five-pointed ones as they were easier to design. However, there is no strong evidence to prove that the story is true. Francis Hopkinson is also claimed to have designed the first flag. He is considered to have designed the US Naval flag too.
The first unofficial national flag was flown at Prospect Hill, Charlestown on January 1, 1776. It had 13 horizontal stripes (symbolic of the 13 colonies) and in the region that now holds stars, was the Union Jack. This flag was known as the Continental Colors, Grand (or Great) Union Flag, or the Cambridge flag.
United States Flag dimensions
American flag dimensions
The United States flag (with the Union Jack replaced by the field of stars) was adopted on June 14, 1777. It is observed as the American Flag Day. The US Army celebrates its birthday on the same day.
What do the stars and stripes on the American flag symbolize? The stars stand for the fifty states in the country, while the thirteen stripes represent the thirteen colonies that rebelled against the British. If a new state is to enter the Union, a new star is added to the flag on July 4 following the state's entry.
There is no specific answer to why the flag bears seven red and six white stripes and not vice versa. Probably, it is for aesthetic reasons. Having seven white stripes would have meant having this color at the top and bottom edges of the flag. Red gives a better frame to the flag, which is why the first stripe is red-colored, effectively making the number of red stripes to be seven.
The flag is popularly accepted as a symbol of the US Government's establishment and the rights promised to the American citizens through the Bill of Rights. It also represents the principles of individual and personal liberty put forth by the Declaration of Independence.
There is no legal definition for the symbolism of colors used in the American flag. However, it is said that white signifies purity and innocence, red stands for valor, and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
There is an interesting story behind the creation of the American flag's design. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower received over 1500 flag design proposals. Most of the proposed designs contained fifty stars, identical to the pattern of stars in the current design. Out of the several proposals for the flag design, the one by Robert Heft, an eighteen-year-old boy was accepted. He had made the design as a part of his school project, which went on to become the national symbol of his country.
American flag with gold fringe
What does the gold fringe around the American flag mean? It is often seen in indoor flags; in federal courts, it indicates that they are Admiralty courts or that they are operating under martial law. While some consider this as the truth, others believe that the fringe only serves decorative purposes. In reality too, there is nothing in the Constitution or the US Law that stipulates whether or not an American flag flown in courts or indoors should have a golden or yellow fringe.
The American flag flutters year-round atop public buildings. It is flown on private buildings on civic holidays like Memorial Day, President's Day, and Independence Day. Small flags are kept near graves of US veterans on Memorial Day.
The White House, the Washington Monument, and the United States Marine Corps War Memorial are some of the locations of the continual display of the American flag. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Ports of Entry that are always open also display the flag continuously. The flag is on continuous display at the ceremonial South Pole representing the USA as one of the countries in the Antarctic Treaty.
On their successful landing on the Moon, the astronauts planted six American flags on the lunar surface. NASA has found out that they are still standing and that their color has changed to white.
Postage stamp with the United States flag
The first postage stamp to bear the United States flag as its only subject, was that issued on July 4, 1957.
The United States Flag Code has prescribed rules for the display and storage of the American flag, the way it should be flown, and code of conduct for people to pay respect to it.
When reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, those present are supposed to stand in attention facing the flag and those in uniform should salute. When the national anthem is being played or sung, everyone present is supposed to stand in attention facing the flag with their right hand held over their heart. Those wearing a headdress are supposed to remove it and hold it in the right hand resting the hand over the left shoulder. This does not apply to those in uniform. The ones in uniform are supposed to give a military salute to the flag and those from the Armed Forces and the veterans can also give a military salute.
In funerals of the United States military personnel and certain civil servants, the coffin of the deceased is covered with the flag.
The flag is flown at full staff on certain days of the year. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Lincoln's birthday, Armed Forces Day, Navy Day, Columbus Day, Labor Day, Constitution Day, and Veterans Day are some of them. It is also displayed on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and on birthdays of states and state holidays.
On June 14 every year, which is the Flag Day and on July 4, the American Independence Day, the flag is displayed at full staff.
On certain days of national importance, the American flag is flown at half staff. On the Memorial Day, it is flown in half staff till noon. It flutters at half staff on the Patriot Day, the Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, and similarly for 30 days after the death of a President and for 10 days following the death of a Vice President, Chief Justice, member of Cabinet or former Vice President.
There are strict guidelines pertaining to the use and display of the US national flag. By rule, the flag should not dip to any person. It should never be allowed to touch the ground. If the flag is to be flown at night, it should be illuminated. In case of any damage on account of wear and tear, the flag should be repaired. And when beyond repair, it should be destroyed in a dignified way.
American flag patch on military uniform
The Army flag patch on a uniform appears reversed. It is specifically so when the flag patch is worn on the right shoulder. The rule is that the star field on the flag should face forward or to the flag's own right. Worn in this manner, the flag patch faces the observer's right and appears to fly in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. It is the reverse side flag.
The American airplanes and space shuttles carry the flag backwards. It has been displayed on all spacecraft for manned flights. The spacecraft Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo were launched vertically and they carried the flag with the stripes running perpendicular to the flight's direction.
Is burning of the American flag illegal? As a protest to certain policies by the government, the flag may be burned. According to the United States Supreme Court, it is unconstitutional to impose a ban on the desecration of a flag because it is 'symbolic speech'.
What does it mean to fly the American flag upside down? The flag is flown upside down as a sign of distress due to danger to life or property.
American flag folded for storage
There is a stipulated way in which the American flag is folded for storage. It is folded lengthwise such that the lower half goes over the section of stars and it is folded again in the same direction. Then a series of triangular folds starting from the outer edge follows, such that after the final fold, a triangular blue field of stars is visible.
The American flag and the symbolism associated with it, is believed to be one of the most complex ones. The flag is an important part of the cultural heritage of the United States of America. Proudly hoisted on tall buildings and historical monuments in the US, it 'oversees' the Americans 'looking up' to it in great admiration.