American Flag Facts: History of Flag Day in the United States

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1928
American Flags

Learn about America’s first Flag Birthday celebration, a brief timeline, and how June 14 has come to be known as National Flag Day in the United States.

Discover how many citizens’ efforts culminated into a national effort to honor the official flag of the United States of America on June 14 each year. Look at the significance of the date and which U.S. President signed National Flag Day as an official observance and which state is the only one to recognize Flag Day as a legal holiday.

American Flag Brief History in the 1700s

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution to accept a design for the American flag. This resolution designated thirteen stripes of red and white alternating with a separate blue field holding a union of thirteen stars. A few important dates in American flag history regarding this design include:

  • September 11, 1777 – First carried into battle in the Battle of Brandywine
  • February 14, 1778 – First saluted by foreign naval vessels when Captain Paul Jones brought the Ranger into a French port
  • Early in 1778 – First flew over foreign territory at Nassau, Bahama Islands

When Was the First Flag Day Celebrated in America?

Flag Day, as with many national holidays, has a history of celebration in several towns and cities around the nation before the official date was made into law. Many smaller scale celebrations in schools particularly sought to Americanize immigrant children in the late 1800s. Hartford, Connecticut was one city that claimed the first Flag Day celebration in the summer of 1861.

The most famous origin of Flag Day has its start in New York City at a free kindergarten for underprivileged children in the area. Professor George Bolch held a patriotic ceremony to celebrate the American flag resolution on June 14, 1889. The celebration was termed Flag Birthday or Flag Day. New York’s State Department of Education decided to adopt this observance in all New York schools beginning the next year.

The New York law later required public school superintendents to ensure that several holidays were observed in the school system, including:

  • Lincoln’s Birthday
  • Washington’s Birthday
  • Memorial Day
  • Flag Day

Other early efforts at recognizing Flag Day include:

  • A school teacher named Bernard J. Cigrand of Waubeka, Wisconsin encourages Congress to establish Flag Day as a national holiday for years
    In 1888, the American Flag Day Association is founded by William T. Kerr, a schoolboy in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania
  • The Society of Colonial Dames in Philadelphia in 1893, including efforts of Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, who was a descendent of Benjamin Franklin, lobby to make Flag Day official
  • New York’s governor order for all public buildings in the state to display the American flag on June 14, 1897
  • Pennsylvania becomes the first state to recognize Flag Day on June 14 as a legal holiday on May 7, 1937 – it is interesting to note that Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation to list Flag Day as a legal holiday.

American Presidents Involved with Making Flag Day a Legal Observance

Several United States Presidents liked the idea of designating June 14 as Flag Day:

  • In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation to observe June 14 as National Flag Day.
  • In 1927, President Calvin Coolidge also issued a proclamation to observe National Flag Day on June 14.
  • On August 3, 1949, President Harry Truman signed the observance of National Flag Day on June 14 into law with the approval of Congress.

National Flag Day in America Encouraged by Many

The national observance of Flag Day on June 14 memorializes the adoption of the basic flag design in 1777 that has come to be known by many names such as Old Glory and the Stars and Stripes. Early efforts by small groups in an effort to educate the young eventually led to national efforts and observances to celebrate the history of the flag of the United States of America.

Sources:

  1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs web article entitled “Celebrating America’s Freedoms: The Origins of Flag Day”
  2. The Flag of the United States of America web article entitled “The History of Flag Day”