The American flag is a significant part of our country’s history and our most recognizable national symbol. You and your students probably see the Stars and Stripes every day—but how much do you actually know about it? It’s more than just pretty colors in an eye-catching design, and every American should know what Old Glory represents whenever they see it flying. Read on for 40+ eye-opening facts about the American flag that will change the way you and your kiddos look at it!
1. Origin of the Stars and Stripes
The first official American flag, known as the “Stars and Stripes,” was approved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777. The original design had 13 stripes and 13 stars to represent the original 13 colonies. The colors of the flag were inherited from the British Red Ensign, a colonial flag used by the British.
Learn More: Britannica
2. Significance of the Flag’s Colors
The colors of the American flag hold specific meanings. Red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice. These meanings were assigned by Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress, when presenting the seal to Congress.
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3. Changes to the Stars and Stripes
The American flag has been modified 27 times since its adoption in 1777. The changes typically involved the addition of stars to represent new states joining the Union. The current 50-star version has been in use since Hawaii became a state in 1959.
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4. The Flag’s Nicknames
The American flag is often affectionately referred to by several nicknames, including “Old Glory,” “Stars and Stripes,” “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and “The Red, White, and Blue.” Each nickname captures an aspect of what the flag symbolizes to the nation. “Old Glory” became a popular nickname after it was used by sea captain William Driver in the 19th century.
Learn More: Color Meanings
5. Betsy Ross and the Flag
Betsy Ross is often credited with sewing the first American flag. According to popular legend, she was commissioned by George Washington and other members of a congressional committee to create the flag in 1776. However, there is no historical evidence to confirm this story, and it remains a topic of debate among historians.
Learn More: National Geographic
6. The Flag’s Size Regulations
The American flag’s design is governed by executive order, which defines the proportions and elements of the flag. Official flags must follow these guidelines, but there is no penalty for private citizens who use flags that do not adhere to the official dimensions. The standard size ratio for the flag is 1:1.9.
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7. The Flag’s Display on the Moon
The American flag was placed on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission, the first manned moon landing, on July 20, 1969. Five more flags were planted on the lunar surface during subsequent Apollo missions. Due to the harsh conditions of the moon, the flags have likely been bleached white and may have disintegrated.
Learn More: Apollo Lunar Surface Journal
8. The Pledge of Allegiance
The Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy and is recited while facing the flag as a sign of respect. Originally written without reference to the flag, the words “the Flag of the United States of America” were added in 1923. Congress officially recognized the Pledge in 1942.
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9. Flag Day Observance
Flag Day is observed on June 14th each year to commemorate the adoption of the American flag. The week in which June 14th falls is designated as “National Flag Week”. During this time, citizens are encouraged to fly the flag and celebrate the symbol of the nation.
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10. The Flag in Times of Mourning
The flag is flown at half-mast as a sign of respect or mourning. When flown at half-mast, the flag should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-mast position. The flag should also be raised to the peak again before it is lowered for the day.
Learn More: National Flag Foundation
11. The Design of the 50-Star Flag
The current 50-star American flag was designed by a high school student. In 1958, Robert G. Heft designed the flag as part of a school project while Alaska and Hawaii were becoming states. His design was chosen by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and adopted as the official flag.
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12. Flag Etiquette and the U.S. Flag Code
The United States Flag Code establishes advisory rules for the display and care of the national flag of the United States of America. While the code is federal law, there is no penalty for failure to comply with it. It also provides guidelines on how the flag is not to be used, such as for advertising purposes or as apparel.
Learn More: National Museum of American History
13. Manufacturing Standards for the Flag
The American flag’s manufacturing standards are detailed in U.S. law, ensuring uniformity and quality. The flag’s materials, dimensions, and colors are specified in these standards, with colors defined by the Color Association of the United States. These standards ensure that flags produced by different manufacturers are consistent in appearance.
Learn More: Library of Congress Blog
14. The Flag’s Role in Citizenship Ceremonies
During naturalization ceremonies, the American flag is displayed as a symbol of the new citizens’ acceptance into the American family. The flag is often given to new citizens as a keepsake of the occasion. These ceremonies underscore the flag’s role as a symbol of the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.
Learn More: The Atlantic
15. The Flag’s Half-Staff Days
There are specific days during the year when the American flag is flown at half-staff by presidential proclamation or law. These days include Memorial Day, Patriot Day (September 11), and Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day (December 7), among others. Flying the flag at half-staff serves as a gesture of respect, mourning, or tribute.
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16. World War I Influence on Flag Etiquette
World War I spurred the creation of flag etiquette due to the rise in patriotic fervor. The war influenced the development of standards and practices for displaying and respecting the flag. As a result, the U.S. Flag Code was eventually formalized in 1942 to provide guidelines for civilian flag display.
Learn More: Star Spangled Flags
17. The Largest Free-Flying American Flag
The largest free-flying American flag in the world flies over the George Washington Bridge in New York City. This flag, which measures 90 feet by 60 feet, is flown on special occasions such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and September 11th. The size of the flag requires that it be flown only in favorable weather to avoid damage.
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18. The Gold Fringe on Ceremonial Flags
The gold fringe found on some American flags is a decorative addition used for indoor flags and for ceremonial purposes. It has no specific significance and is not referenced in the Flag Code. The fringe is considered an “honorable enrichment” and is not regarded as part of the U.S. flag’s official design.
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19. The Flag on American Uniforms
When the American flag is worn on military uniforms, it is displayed with the field of stars facing forward. This is to give the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The flag is worn on the right shoulder, with the stars facing forward, which is considered the position of honor.
Learn More: War History Online
20. Presidential Proclamation of Flag Day
President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation on May 30, 1916, officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day. However, it wasn’t until August 3, 1949, that National Flag Day was established by an Act of Congress. Flag Day is not an official federal holiday, but it is a state holiday in Pennsylvania.
Learn More: Library of Congress
21. The Flag’s Representation in Times of Crisis
During times of national crisis, the American flag becomes a rallying symbol for unity and resilience. After events such as the September 11 attacks, flags are prominently displayed to demonstrate national solidarity and remembrance. The flag serves as a beacon of hope and determination in the face of adversity.
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22. Destruction of Tattered Flags
The U.S. Flag Code advises that when a flag has served its useful purpose, it should be destroyed, preferably by burning, in a dignified way. Many American Legion posts and other patriotic organizations conduct flag retirement ceremonies on Flag Day. These solemn ceremonies honor the flag’s service before it is respectfully burned.
23. The First American Flag in Combat
The first American flag believed to be carried in battle was the Bedford Flag, flown by Minutemen from Bedford, Massachusetts, during the Battle of Concord on April 19, 1775. This event marked the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. The flag is said to be the oldest complete flag known to exist in the United States.
Learn More: Bedford Free Public Library
24. The Flag’s First Salute
The American flag received its first salute at sea from a foreign power on February 14, 1778, when Captain John Paul Jones’s ship, the USS Ranger, was saluted by the French fleet. This act was one of the first international acknowledgments of American independence. The salute took place in Quiberon Bay, France.
Learn More: Wikipedia
25. The American Flag on U.S. Stamps
The American flag has appeared on more U.S. postage stamps than any other design. The flag’s first appearance on a stamp was in 1869. Since then, it has been featured in many variations and commemorations, reflecting its enduring significance in American culture.
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26. The Annual Flag Raising on Iwo Jima
The flag raising on Iwo Jima during World War II was memorialized in a famous photograph and later a bronze statue. Every year, a reenactment of this event is conducted to honor the Marines who fought there. The original flag raised on Mount Suribachi is part of the Marine Corps War Memorial near Arlington National Cemetery.
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27. The Flag at the North Pole
The American flag was first placed at the North Pole by Robert Peary in 1909. Peary’s team reportedly placed an American flag made by his wife at the pole. This symbolic act was part of the era’s intense international race to reach the Earth’s extremes.
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28. The Flag’s Symbolism in the Civil Rights Movement
The American flag became a powerful symbol during the Civil Rights Movement. Activists often carried the flag in marches and protests as a statement that African Americans were entitled to the same rights and freedoms as any other American. The flag continues to be a symbol for civil rights and equality.
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29. Code for Flag Display on Vehicles
The U.S. Flag Code specifies that when the flag is displayed on a vehicle, the staff should be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender. It should not be draped over the vehicle. This proper display is to ensure respect for the flag even when it is mobile.
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30. The Flag’s Protection Against Commercial Use
The U.S. Flag Code discourages the use of the flag for any sort of advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on items such as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. This is to prevent the commercial exploitation of the flag’s image.
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31. The Flag During the National Anthem
When the national anthem is played and the flag is displayed, all present should stand at attention facing the flag with their right hand over their heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. This is a sign of respect during the anthem’s duration.
Learn More: BBC
32. The First Flag on Foreign Soil
The American flag was first raised in a foreign land at Nassau, Bahamas, during the American Revolutionary War. Marines from the USS Providence erected the flag during a raid on Fort Nassau in 1776. This act was part of the early military operations of the fledgling United States.
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33. Flag Influence on State Flags
Many U.S. state flags incorporate elements of the national flag’s design, such as the use of red, white, and blue or stars and stripes. These elements reflect the states’ connection to the Union and the shared values and heritage they represent. Each state’s flag, while unique, pays homage to the national emblem.
Learn More: Britannica
34. The Flag’s Depiction in Art
The American flag has been a subject for various artists, reflecting its cultural and political significance. Perhaps most notably, Jasper Johns’ series of flag paintings challenged the boundaries between fine art and everyday icons. The flag’s image continues to inspire artists to explore themes of patriotism, freedom, and critique.
Learn More: Art News
35. The Flag’s Role in Military Campaign Streamers
Campaign streamers, which are long, narrow ribbons attached to the staff of military flags, represent the service and battles of military units. The colors and patterns of the streamers often correspond to the campaign’s ribbon or medal. These streamers are a way to visually display the history and honors of a military unit.
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36. The Specific Times for Flag Display
While the American flag can be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness, there are specific times when it is traditionally flown. These include federal holidays, state holidays, and other days proclaimed by the President. The flag is especially associated with Independence Day, Veterans Day, and Memorial Day.
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37. The Flag’s Reflection of Expansion and Unity
The design of the American flag, with its addition of stars for each new state, reflects the concept of E Pluribus Unum—”Out of many, one.” As the country expanded and new states were admitted, the flag evolved to include all members of the Union. The flag is a visual representation of the nation’s unity and diversity.
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38. The “Star-Spangled Banner” Flag
The flag that flew over Fort McHenry and inspired the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” had 15 stars and 15 stripes. This version of the flag was used from 1795 to 1818 and was the only U.S. flag to have more than 13 stripes. The flag’s design returned to 13 stripes for the 13 original colonies after 1818.
Learn More: National Park Service
39. The Protocol for Flag-Raising
When raising the American flag, it should be done briskly and ceremoniously. When lowering the flag, it should be done slowly and respectfully. This protocol ensures that the flag is always treated with dignity and honor.
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40. The Flag’s Use in State and Local Governments
State and local governments in the U.S. display the American flag on government buildings and during official functions. It is often flown alongside the state or city flag. The display of the flag at government buildings symbolizes authority and the services provided to citizens.
Learn More: Federal Flags
41. The Flag’s Role in Military Funerals
The American flag is traditionally draped over the caskets of fallen service members and veterans. At the end of the funeral service, the flag is ceremonially folded into a triangle and presented to the next of kin as a token of respect and gratitude for the service member’s sacrifice. This tradition honors those who have served their country.
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42. The Flag in Presidential Inaugurations
The American flag is prominently displayed during presidential inaugurations; symbolizing the peaceful transfer of power. Multiple flags can be seen behind the president during the swearing-in ceremony. The presence of the flag underscores the commitment to the values and the continuity of the democracy it represents.
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43. The Flag’s Symbolism in American Culture
The flag is a strong cultural symbol in the United States and appears in various aspects of American life, including art, music, and sports. It’s a symbol of national pride and patriotism; representing the country’s history, ideals, and the sacrifices of its service members. The flag is an emblem of the nation’s identity and unity.
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