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