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Jun 18, 2004 6:28 am

Who Designed the First U.S. Flag?

Katie Mehr, in Newsday (June 14, 2004):

No one really knows who designed the first Stars and Stripes, but experts have some idea. The designer created what has been our nation's most recognizable symbol, one that has undergone 27 makeovers since the 1770s to keep up with our growing nation.

Experts have debated whether Betsy Ross or Rep. Francis Hopkinson was the original designer, according to Marilyn Zoidis, flag historian of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Most gave credit to Hopkinson because he signed the Declaration of Independence and was connected to the designing of The Great Seal of the United States. Betsy Ross had no direct evidence. Her story was promoted by her grandson, William Canby, who generated a lot of publicity in the 1870s.

The Continental Congress in 1777 mandated the first flag with stars on June 14, which is where Flag Day gets its date. The banner had 13 alternating red and white stripes and stars (in no official arrangement). The Stars and Stripes were to represent the 13 colonies.

"We have no image of the very first flag and we don't know where it is," said Zoidis. But the most popular design had the 13 stripes and alternating rows of two and three stars. The flag with 13 stars arranged in a circle was rarely used.

For every state, Congress added a stripe and star. In 1795, the flag had 15 Stars and Stripes. The Flag Act of 1818 stated the flag would return to 13 stripes to honor the original colonies and a star would be added for every new state. The 48-star flag was the longest national flag, flying from 1912 to 1959.

"No other country's flag dominates the cultural landscape as it does in the U.S.," said Zoidis....

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