Along with fireworks and hot dogs, you can be sure that every Fourth of July you’ll see plenty of American flags. But do you know much about this symbol of America? You might be surprised to learn that its beginnings aren’t exactly clear.

Most school-age children will tell you that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag. Are they right? Maybe…

According to legend, three members of a secret committee from the Continental Congress — including George Washington — visited Betsy Ross in May 1776 to ask her to sew the first American flag. Since Betsy attended church with George Washington and had done sewing for him before, some people believe it was their friendship that led him to ask her to sew the first flag.

Ross supposedly sewed the flag based on a drawing given to her by George Washington. However, no actual evidence exists that Betsy Ross made the first American flag. In fact, the first public mention of her story didn’t occur until almost 100 years after the fact.

At least one other woman — Rebecca Young — has also been given credit for making the first flag. Some of Young’s children have claimed that she created the first flag.

Rebecca Young’s daughter, Mary Pickersgill, made the “Star-Spangled Banner Flag” that flew over Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812. It was her flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that would become the U.S. national anthem.

Still others believe it was Francis Hopkinson from New Jersey who designed the first flag. Hopkinson was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence who later served as chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department.

Hopkinson was the only person to have claimed to have designed the first flag during his own lifetime. He even submitted a bill to Congress for his work. Although no one contested his claim, he was not paid for his work because he had already received a salary as a member of Congress.

Although it’s unclear who came up with the design and actually sewed the first American flag, we do know for sure that the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution on June 14, 1777. It stated: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

We now observe Flag Day on June 14 each year. Since the first flag, the American flag’s design has been changed 26 times.

Today’s flag consists of 13 horizontal stripes — seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies. The 50 stars represent the 50 states that make up the United States.

The colors of the flag are also symbolic. Red stands for hardiness and valor. White symbolizes purity and innocence. Blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.

The American flag goes by several nicknames. The most popular are the “Stars and Stripes,” “Old Glory” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

 

18 Join the Discussion

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  1. Happy 4th!!! I actually have tons and tons of background knowledge about this because I did a report on Betsy Ross in 3rd grade. From all of the research I did, I am pretty sure that it was Betsy that made the flag, but you never know, maybe someone will find actual proof, someday. Did you know that Betsy Ross married a man that her parents didn’t approve of because of their religion, so they ran away and had a secret wedding? Also Betsy was widowed three times.

    I think that tomorrow’s wonder will be about an earthquake because the ground shakes and they are usually very noisy.

    • WOW, Meredith! You DO know a lot about Betsy Ross! Thanks for sharing these great facts with everyone in Wonderopolis today!

      We hope you had a FANTASTIC Fourth of July! :-)

  2. I also think that it could be about an elephant because sometimes elephants shake the ground because they are so heavy.

  3. WOW! I never knew that Rebecca Young also took part in creating the first flag. I thought that it was only Betsy Ross. I also didn’t know that Francis Hopkinson might have designed the first flag. All of this information was very interesting and I liked this Wonder a lot!

    • It makes us very happy when we hear from our Wonder Friends, Jack, so THANK YOU for your comment! We’re so glad you learned some new things about the American Flag! :-)

  4. I agree with Jack. I never knew those facts and when we discussed the wonder the next day, almost all my students said they had never heard of Rebecca Young. We also connected this post to our focus this week on the Constitution-both historic artifacts. Thanks again for a great wonder for Social Studies.

    • Hi, Maria! Thank you for letting us know that teachers learn new things, too! The world is a WONDERous place. There are tons of new things to explore and fun facts to discover every day! Please tell those awesome “MC” kids that their friends in Wonderopolis think they ROCK! :-)

    • We’re glad you liked this Wonder of the Day®, AP! Thanks for sharing what you enjoyed learning by exploring it! :-)

    • We’re really glad you guys liked the ocean creature Wonders we shared with you, Jordyn and Carlie! We don’t have a Wonder about coral reefs yet, but we think that idea would make a GREAT future Wonder of the Day®! It takes a good bit of time to go from “Wonder idea” to “Wonder of the Day®,” but we want to THANK YOU for letting us know what you’d like to learn about in Wonderopolis! :-)

  5. NOW, ABOUT THE AMERICAN FLAG. IT APPEARS THAT THEY WERE TOO MANY HANDS IN THE POT WHEN IT COMES TO WHO ACTUALLY MADE THE AMERICAN FLAG.

    NOW THREE (3) PEOPLE MIGHT HAVE DESIGNED THE FLAG, BUT ONLY ONE ACTUALLY MADE IT. THIS IS JUST MY GUT FEELING.

    • Hi there, Franklin C! We really appreciate your comment about the American Flag! We bet there were many people who contributed to the creation of the flag, but the actual creation (planning, sewing, cutting of fabric) could have been handled by multiple people! It’s very interesting to Wonder about all the different people who contributed to the flag that many of us fly with great pride! Thanks for pointing out that it’s important to recognize all of those involved! :)

  6. We liked your video! It was cool! We love the American flag and love learning more and more about it! We WONDER if we will ever really know who made the first American flag! Thank you for sharing the information about the other 2 people. We didn’t know about them.

    • We’re really glad you enjoyed WONDERing about the American flag with us, Mrs. Davis’ Class! Thanks for stopping by Wonderopolis! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Who made the American flag?
  • When is Flag Day?
  • What do the colors of the American flag represent?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

Ready to make your own flag? Knowing what you do about the design and colors of the American flag, design a flag for your family. If you were to fly a flag outside your house that would show your neighborhood what your family is all about, what would it look like?

What colors would you use? Are there special colors that represent your family? For example, if your family’s ancestors came from Mexico, perhaps you could base your family flag on the colors in the Mexican flag.

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When you’re finished, email or send us a copy of your family flag. We’d love to see what you come up with!

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Still Wondering

Ever wonder about how a flag represents a country’s people and resources or why a flag can evoke emotions? Check out National Geographic Xpeditions’ Why Do We Have an American Flag lesson to learn more! You can also learn interesting facts about flag history and how to display and care for the flag by playing the fun Find the Flag interactive activity from the National Center for Family Literacy!

 

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