When the Revolutionary War broke out in 1775, there was no single flag that represented the United Colonies of America. Most regiments fighting against the British fought under their own flag.
In June of 1775, the Second Continental Congress met to establish the Continental Army, a unified colonial fighting force. This led to the creation of the first “American” flag, the Continental Colors.
The flag was comprised of 13 red and white alternating stripes with the union jack in the corner. For some, this was too similar to the British flag. George Washington soon realized that flying this flag was not a real confidence builder for the revolutionary effort. He then turned his efforts to creating a new symbol of freedom for our new soon-to-be country.
On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress took a break from writing the Articles of Confederation and passed a resolution stating that “the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white,” and that “the union be 13 stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” The resolution was made following the report of a special committee which had been assigned to suggest the flag’s design.
In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson marked the anniversary of that decree by officially establishing June 14 as Flag Day. In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge also issued proclamations asking for June 14 to be observed as the National Flag Day. It wasn’t until Aug. 3, 1949, that Congress approved the national observance, and President Harry Truman signed it into law.
It is widely believed that Betsy Ross, who assisted the Revolutionary War effort by repairing uniforms and sewing tents, made and helped design the first American flag. However, there is no historical evidence that she contributed to Old Glory’s creation. It was not until her grandson, William Canby, held an 1870 press conference to recount the story that the American public learned of her possible role.
A flag of this design was first carried into battle on Sept. 11, 1777, in the battle of Brandywine. The American flag was first saluted by foreign naval vessels on Feb. 14, 1778, when the Ranger, bearing the Stars and Stripes and under the command of Capt. Paul Jones, arrived in a French port.
An actual observance of Flag Day was not celebrated for more than 100 years after its inception.
In 1885, Bernard Cigrand, a small-town Wisconsin teacher, originated the idea for an annual flag day, to be celebrated across the country every June 14. That year, he led his school in the first formal observance of the holiday. Cigrand, who later changed careers and practiced dentistry in Illinois, continued to promote his concept and advocate respect for the flag throughout his life.
In 1893, the Society of Colonial Dames succeeded in getting a resolution passed to have the flag displayed on all of Philadelphia’s public buildings. Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin and the president of the Colonial Dames of Pennsylvania, that same year tried to get the city to call June 14 Flag Day.
Resolutions by women were not granted much notice, however, and it was not until May 7, 1937, that Pennsylvania became the first state to establish the June 14 Flag Day as a legal holiday. Flag Day is a nationwide observance today, but Pennsylvania is the only state that recognizes it as a legal holiday.
The flag should be displayed on all days, especially on:
• New Year’s Day, Jan. 1
• Inauguration Day, Jan. 20
• Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, third Monday in January
• Lincoln’s Birthday, Feb. 12
• Washington’s Birthday, third Monday in February
• Vietnam War Veterans Day, March 29
• Easter Sunday (variable)
• Mother’s Day, second Sunday in May
• Armed Forces Day, third Saturday in May
• Memorial Day (half-staff until noon), the last Monday in May
• Flag Day, June 14
• Father’s Day, third Sunday in June
• Independence Day, July 4
• Labor Day, first Monday in September
• Constitution Day, Sept. 17
• Columbus Day, second Monday in October
• Navy Day, Oct. 27
• Veterans Day, Nov. 11
• Thanksgiving Day, fourth Thursday in November
• Christmas Day, Dec. 25
• Such other days as may be proclaimed by the president of the United States
• Birthdays of states (date of admission)
• State holidays
Harold B. Wolford is president of the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 1095. He served in the United States Army from 1970 to 1973. Wolford can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.