You see the flag often if you live in the United States—from battlefields to turrets to your front porch! But do you know the American flag’s history? Let’s learn about the history of the US flag. Then be sure to print the mini-book from our US Constitution and Government Course, which offers even more information.
The history of the American flag as we know and love it today begins before the United States was a unified nation, when many flags were flying throughout the original 13 colonies.
In 1765 the Sons of Liberty designed a flag with nine vertical stripes. Britain outlawed the new flag and claimed the stripes were “rebellious.” The group then changed the design, and for the first time, 13 red and white stripes (representing the 13 colonies) flew on the flag. Ten years later, either Benjamin Franklin or George Washington designed the Grand Union Flag, also known as the “Continental Colors,” for use by the troops.
The First Stars and Stripes
Legend has it that in 1776, George Washington and two others visited the Philadelphia home of Betsy Ross and requested that she make a new flag. The “Betsy Ross flag” was one of the earliest American flags made with the iconic stars and stripes.
Many years later, Francis Scott Key wrote America’s national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He watched the American flag wave during a battle in the War of 1812 as he penned the famous words.
If you go to Washington, DC, you can see the actual flag which was waving over Fort McHenry while the British troops attacked. You can learn more about this amazing story here.
The number of stars and stripes on the flag quickly increased as more states entered the Union. It soon became too many to keep up with on the fast-changing flag! In 1818 Congress resolved to keep the alternating stripes at 13 to represent the original first colonies. Then each state would have a star added as it joined the Union.
The Modern Flag
The American flag is nicknamed “Old Glory” and has flown across the nation (and world) for more than 200 years.
We celebrate Flag Day on June 14 each year. President Woodrow Wilson designated it a national holiday through an official proclamation on May 30, 1916.
Many Americans use Flag Day to keep the flag’s meaningful history alive. You can celebrate this day, too. Put up flags in your house, draw a picture of a flag, or fly one outside. See the images below for Flag Day activity ideas and links to even more American flag history information!