THE EVOLUTION OF THE AMERICAN FLAG

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This is an extract of my article, with small photos. You will find the complete article with full-sized photos in my e-book As American as Apple Pie !

In the travel series View America, this book narrates events and facts that are common to the entire nation.

Man's migration to America, ancient Indian cultures, New France, the French and Indian War, the 13 original Colonies, the Louisiana Purchase, the Civil War, American territorial expansion, the American Flag, American holidays, and the lighter side of... old US Laws!

This e-book is illustrated with more than 70 full-sized photos and maps.

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The history of the American flag

American citizens are very attached to the symbol of their solidarity, the American flag. Local administrations and citizens proudly display the flag during all conceivable occasions, and if a national disaster happens, it is hung at half-mast, as was for instance the case with the Shuttle disaster.

There have been 28 official variations of the American Flag. Today's flag presents 50 stars and 13 stripes, but during American history this has frequently been changed. The number of stripes has always been 13, after the original 13 states, except once in 1795, but over time the number of stars has increased.

# stripes stars in use  duration
         
01 13 Grand Union 1775–1777 1½ years
02 13 13 stars 1777–1795  18 years
03 15 15 stars 1795–1818  23 years
04 13 20 stars 1818–1819  1 year
05 13 21 stars 1819–1820  1 year
06 13 23 stars 1820–1822  2 years
07 13 24 stars 1822–1836 14 years
08 13 25 stars 1836–1837  1 year
09 13 26 stars 1837–1845  8 years
10 13 27 stars 1845–1846  1 year
11 13 28 stars 1846–1847  1 year
12 13 29 stars 1847–1848  1 year
13 13 30 stars 1848–1851  3 years
14 13 31 stars 1851–1858  7 years
15 13 32 stars 1858–1859  1 year
16 13 33 stars 1859–1861  2 years
17 13 34 stars 1861–1863  2 years
18 13 35 stars 1863–1865  2 years
19 13 36 stars 1865–1867  2 years
20 13 37 stars 1867–1877  10 years
21 13 38 stars 1877–1890  13 years
22 13 43 stars 1890–1891  1 year
23 13 44 stars 1891–1896  5 years
24 13 45 stars 1896–1908  12 years
25 13 46 stars 1908–1912  4 years
26 13 48 stars 1912–1959  47 years
27 13 49 stars 1959–1960  1 year
28 13 US Flag 1960–2011  50+ years

The first American flag

The first national flag used to be the Grand Union Flag. Even if it was never made official, it was used throughout the American Revolution by George Washington. Its design was used for the first official US flag, the Betsy Ross Flag.

In 1777, after the independence from Great-Britain, Congress adopted the national flag with thirteen stars for the original 13 states, and 13 alternating red and white stripes. The stars are on a blue background, which symbolizes the Union. Those colours are also present in the French and the English flag.

Congress wanted the stars in a circle, but practically minded sewsters found it so much easier to position them in rows. And so it happened, since, as in the rest of the world, "Ce que Femme veut, Dieu le veut"... Even to date, personalized versions of the flag may differ from the official version.

Grand Union flag 13 stars
Grand Union flag
13 stars

Period 1848 - 1865 : North and South

In 1850, there were 15 free states and 15 slave states within the Union. But the slavery issue raised fierce anti-slavery rhetoric, and the northern politicians got so stirred up, that flags were launched with only the free states... These would only show 16, 17 or 18 stars. The South obviously countered with their own version of the American flag, with a total of 15 stars.

In 1861, when the fatal shot was fired that started the American Civil War, the flag over Fort Sumter showed 33 stars. At first, the flags of each side were rather identical, even though the northern flag had 35 stars, and the southern flag only had 7 stars. This number was later increased to thirteen, but the southern flag had only 3 stripes compared to 13.

To steer clear of errors, the South modified its flag to its battle-flag, the Southern Cross. Throughout the conflict there were flags galore, and every regiment, cavalry, headquarters, country and whatever had its own distinct idea about its flag.

Confederate flag
the Southern Cross
Confederate flag
the Southern Cross

Animated GIF : The evolution of the American flag

the evolution of the American flag

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