U.S. Military History: U.S. Flag Folding—Part 1 of 2

Ross Dunfee

While not officially adopting a flag at the time of the Declaration of Independence, the “Continental Colors” (aka the “Grand Union” flag), has historically been referred to as the first national flag of the United States. That flag has a striking resemblance to the British East India Company (1707-1801), where the canton resembles the Union Jack. That flag was used by the Continental military and formed the basis for subsequent designs. Over the years the flag has garnered nicknames including “Stars and Stripes,” “Old Glory,” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Flag Resolution passed by the Second Continental Congress (June 14, 1777) stated, “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” Every year on June 14, Support Our Troops-AZ (SOT-AZ) honors this event, known as Flag Day. It is likely that the Flag Resolution was meant to design a naval ensign, and since the Resolution lacked dimensional specifics a large variety of flag designs occurred over the next several years.

As documented in the Journals of the Continental Congress, Francis Hopkinson, a naval flag designer and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, designed the 1777 U.S. flag and submitted a bill to the Congress requesting a “Quarter Cask of the Public Wine” as compensation. The bill has yet to be paid. It likely was not paid because there were possibly other contributors to the flag design, and he already received a salary as a member of Congress.

There are fanciful stories crediting either Betsy Ross or Rebecca Young as the creators of the first U.S. flag, but both stories lack corroborating evidence. William Canby, Betsy Ross’ grandson, suggested the Betsy Ross story in 1870 (100 years later) without any evidence and, while Rebecca Young’s family claims that she is the first flag seamstress, again the story lacks evidence. However, Rebecca Young’s daughter, Mary Pickersgill, did sew the “Stars and Stripes” that flew at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

George Washington was the only President to serve under the original flag, and he signed the Flag Act of 1795 to change the stars and stripes to 15 each (adding Vermont and Kentucky). Even though additional states were added to the Union after 1795, the flag remained unchanged until April 4, 1818, when Congress changed the flag to have 20 stars, with a new star to be added when each new state was admitted, but the number of stripes would be reduced to 13 so as to honor the original colonies. Before the adoption of the 48-star flag in 1912, there was no official arrangement of the stars in the canton, and throughout the 19th century different star patterns, rectangular and circular, were abundant. Display of the U.S. flag had no real place in the public consciousness until the Civil War when it suddenly became a part of the national identity.

On June 14, 1923, the National Flag Code was constructed by representatives of over 68 organizations under the auspices of the National Americanism Commission of the American Legion. The code, to govern U.S. flag display, was printed by the national organization of the American Legion and given nationwide distribution. On June 22, 1942, the code became law.

Once deceased, it is common to honor a veteran and their service by draping a flag over the casket. The flag is then folded and presented to a family member. There is a meaning to each fold; to be discussed next month.

SOT-AZ proudly honors our veterans by presenting 628 U.S. flags along the principal roadways in Robson Ranch 11 to 12 times each year. Visit www.sotaz.org to learn more about SOT-AZ.