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Evolution of the American Flag

The American flag is a source of American history, legend, unity and respect. Through the years the number of stars in the canton has increased with the addition of new states, and the meaning of the flag has expanded to unimaginable heights. From its unofficial beginning as the Continental Colors or Grand Union flag to the long serving 50-star American Flag, Americans have been on a quest to protect, preserve and serve the flag. Today the flag flies everywhere from classrooms to federal buildings to homes and even cars. It’s internationally recognized in every country and city around the world.

Number of Stars Design Information Dates in Use
0 Stars Continental Colors
  • Also known as the Grand Union flag, the Union flag, the Continental flag, the Somerville flag and the Great Union
  • Designed with a British Union Jack in the canton and 13 alternating red and white stripes
  • Considered to the be the first American flag, but it was never official
  • The Maritime Committee of Continental Congress considered it the official flag of the American naval forces
  • More Information on the Continental Colors
  • Purchase a Continental Colors flag
1775-1777
13 Stars Betsy Ross Flag
  • First official flag of the United States
  • Designed with 13 stars and 13 stripes to represent the 13 colonies (Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, South Carolina, New Hampshire, Virginia, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island)
  • Since Congress did not specify dimensions, proportions, shapes or star patterns, flags varied dramatically
  • Legend says that Betsy Ross designed and sewed the first American flag, but most historians disagree
  • The person who sewed the first flag is unknown, but the designer is thought to be Francis Hopkinson
  • The Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution of 1777 on June 14, 1777 making the Betsy Ross flag official
  • This date is now celebrated annually as Flag Day
  • The only president to serve under this flag was George Washington
  • More Information on the Betsy Ross flag
  • Purchase a Betsy Ross flag 
1777-1795
15 Stars Star Spangled Banner Flag
  • Designed with 15 stars and 15 stripes to represent the 13 original states plus Kentucky and Vermont
  • Made by Mary Pickersgill and her daughter
  • In 1812 the flag was flown over Fort McHenry, which inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star Spangled Banner poem, which was put to music to become America’s national anthem
  • The Star Spangled Banner is on display at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History
  • George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe all served under this flag
  • More Information on the Star Spangled Banner
  • Purchase a Star Spangled Banner flag
1795-1818
20 Stars 20-Star American Flag
  • Also known as the Great Star Flag and the Flag of 1818
  • Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818, adding five new stars to the flag and reducing the number of stripes from 15 to 13
  • The five additional stars represented Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi
  • This flag was designed by Navy Captain Samuel Reid
  • James Monroe was the only president to serve under this flag
1818-1819
21 Stars 21-Star American Flag
  • One star was added with the admission of Illinois to the Union
  • James Monroe was the only president to service under this flag
1819-1820
23 Stars 23-Star American Flag
  • Two stars were added to the flag for the admission of Alabama and Maine
  • When Alabama was admitted in 1819, the free and slave states were balanced, but with the addition of Maine, the Union held a majority of free states
  • James Monroe was the only president to serve under this flag
1820-1822
24 Stars 24-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Missouri
  • The name "Old Glory" spawned from a 24-star flag flown by shipmaster Captain William Driver
  • The flag, which was given to him by his mother and friends, became famous by the time of the Civil War
  • Driver, who lived in Tennessee, was afraid the flag would be seized by Confederate forces, so he hid the flag between layers of his comforter
  • In 1860 ten more stars were added to the flag for the admission of new states
  • Today Old Glory is one of America's greatest treasures
  • James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson served under the 24-star flag
1822-1836
25 Stars 25-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Arkansas
  • Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren served under this flag
1836-1837
26 Stars 26-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Michigan
  • Sailing under a 26-star American flag, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes led the first American expedition to explore Antarctica
  • Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, John Tyler and James Polk served under this flag
1837-1845
27 Stars 27-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Florida
  • James Polk was the only president to serve under this flag
1845-1846
28 Stars 28-Star American Flag
  • The 28th star was added to the flag when the United States annexed Texas; an action that would spawn the Mexican-American War
  • This was the first war in which American troops carried the flag into battle
  • The United States defeated Mexico and gained land that would become New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and most of western Colorado
  • James Polk was the only president to serve under this flag
1846-1847
29 Stars 29-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Iowa
  • James Polk was the only president to serve under this flag
1847-1848
30 Stars 30-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Wisconsin
  • James Polk, Zachary Taylor and Millard Fillmore served under this flag
1848-1851
31 Stars 31-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of California
  • Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan served under this flag
1851-1858
32 Stars 32-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Minnesota
  • James Buchanan was the only president to serve under this flag
1858-1859
33 Stars 33-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Oregon
  • The Civil War began on April 12, 1861, under this flag
  • James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln served under this flag
1859-1861
34 Stars 34-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Kansas
  • South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861
  • President Lincoln did not remove stars from the flag because he believed the Southern states were still part of the government
  • In protest some Northeners cut 11 stars out of their personal flags
  • Abraham Lincoln was the only president to serve under this flag
1861-1863
35 Stars 35-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of West Virginia
  • Virginia split into two separate states because parts supported the Confederacy and other parts supported the Union (the section that would become West Virginia supported the Union)
  • This was the first time that a new state formed out of rebellion of the original state
  • The Civil War ended on April 9, 1865, under this flag
  • Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson served under this flag
1863-1865
36 Stars 36-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Nevada
  • 3 months before the flag became official, a 36-star flag was used to cushion President Lincoln's head the evening of his assassination at Ford's Theatre
  • "The Lincoln Flag" is currently on display at the Columns Museum of the Pike County Historical Society in Milford, PA
  • Andrew Johnson was the only president to serve under this flag
1865-1867
37 Stars 37-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Nebraska
  • Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes served under this flag
1867-1877
38 Stars 38-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Colorado
  • Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland and Benjamin Harrison all served under this flag
1877-1890
43 Stars 43-Star American Flag
  • Five stars were added to the flag for the admission of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington and Idaho
  • Benjamin Harrison was the only president to serve under this flag
1890-1891
44 Stars 44-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Wyoming
  • Benjamin Harrison and Grover Cleveland served under this flag
1891-1896
45 Stars 45-Star American Flag 1896-1908
46 Stars 46-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Oklahoma
  • William H. Taft was the only president to serve under this flag
1908-1912
48 Stars 48-Star American Flag
  • Two stars were added to the flag for the admission of New Mexico and Arizona
  • President Taft passed an Executive Order in 1912 establishing proportions for the flag and arranging the stars in six horizontal rows of eight, with each star pointing upward
  • This flag was in service for 47 years, lasting through two World Wars and making it the longest serving flag until July 4, 2007, when it will be succeeded by the 50-star American flag
  • William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Dwight D. Eisenhower served under this flag
  • Purchase a 48-star American Stick Flag
1912-1959
49 Stars 49-Star American Flag
  • One Star was added for the admission of Alaska
  • President Eisenhower passed an Executive Order in 1959 to have the stars arranged in 7 rows with 7 stars in each row, staggered horizontally and vertically
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower was the only president to serve under this flag
1959-1960
50 Stars 50-Star American Flag
  • One star was added to the flag for the admission of Hawaii
  • 17-year-old Bob Heft predicted that Hawaii would gain statehood after Alaska, and designed a 50-star flag for his high school history class
  • After Hawaii had been added, President Eisenhower selected Heft's design to become the national emblem
  • As of July 4, 2007, the 50-star flag will be America's longest serving flag
  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald W. Reagan, George Bush, William J. Clinton, and George W. Bush served under this flag
  • More Information on the 50-star American Flag
  • Purchase a 50-star American Flag
1960-Present

Did Betsy Ross really design the American Flag?
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