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The History of the American Flag and its Holiday

December 31st, 2012 Seasonal

The US has a slew of holidays that offer its citizens the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism. We have Memorial Day to remember those who served this country, Veterans Day to commemorate soldiers who served in war as well as Independence Day to celebrate the birth of our country. Flag Day lets us pay tribute to our national banner.

From sporting events to public schools, the American flag can be seen everywhere. While the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem say so much about national pride, flying the flag encapsulates all of these sentiments by just simply being. Not only does it signify our country's pride, but it also helps tell the story of how we became the America we are today - from the original thirteen colonies represented in the red and white stripes to the present fifty states that take the shape of stars.

How it came to be
The original American flag, which featured red, white and blue as well as the stars and stripes, was initially authorized by congress on June 14, 1777. According to NationalFlagDay.com, the act was the fifth item in their agenda. "Resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be Thirteen stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation," states the official Continental Congress log book.

Throughout the years, the circular pattern of 13 stars against a blue background would expand in number as new states were added through various acquisitions, such as the Louisiana Purchase, which took place under the auspices of Thomas Jefferson in 1803. This secured America nearly 828,000 square miles, which would comprise many midwestern territories starting east of the Mississippi River and spanning from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

While territories were continually added, it wasn't until President Taft's decision on June 24, 1912, that the pattern of stars on the flag came to be arranged as horizontal rows. It was also during his term in office that Arizona was added as the 48th state. The pattern of fifty stars would not be complete until Hawaii and Alaska were added as the last two states.

Flag Day

The idea for Flag Day was brought to fruition by a Wisconsin school teacher named Bernard J. Cigrand. According to the National Flag Day Foundation, in 1885 Cigrand put a ten-inch flag in an inkwell, which at the time bore 38 stars, and had his pupils write essays on how they interpreted the flag.

The source reports that Cigrand would go on to become a proponent for not only further flag day recognition, but other ultra-patriotic projects as well. In 1888, he gave a speech in Chicago to a group called the Sons of America, in which he stressed the importance of a day dedicated to observing the flag. He also penned a series of books such as, "The Story of the American Flag" and "History of American Emblems."

Throughout the years, there would be more advocates of Flag Day that ranged from ordinary civilians, patriotic groups and politicians. United-States-Flag.com reports that in 1889, a principal of a kindergarten school named George Bloch celebrated the American flag's birthday, and then in 1893, Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a relative of Benjamin Franklin, attempted to decree June 14 as Flag Day. It wasn't until 1949, though, that Flag Day would become official, thanks to the legislation by Harry S. Truman.