The U.S. Flag – A Brief History of Old Glory

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American Flag

The American flag has many names: the Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, the Red, White and Blue. It is a symbol of strength, courage, tolerance and equality.

The flag of the United States is the international symbol of democracy and freedom. However you see it and whatever you call it, the American flag is the image behind a nation, a culture and an idea.

Washington Commissions the Flag

While stationed in Philadelphia General George Washington commissioned the making of a flag as he fought in the Revolutionary War. His hope was that this new flag would symbolize the new country he was fighting to bring into existence. In May of 1776, Washington visited with well-known professional seamstress, the widow Elizabeth Ross of Philadelphia.

The Story of Betsy Ross

After his unexpected death, Betsy Ross decided to hold on to the upholstery business she had started with her husband John. Ross, whose deceased husband had served with the militia men jumped at the opportunity help General Washington. Until the meeting with Ross, Washington fought under a flag he referred to as the “Grand Union.” This flag consisted of a plain design with a version of the British Union Jack in the top left corner.

After reviewing Washington’s Grand Union flag and proposed addition of a six pointed star, Ross suggested a five pointed star design would be easier to construct and replicate. The commission was hers. The story of this meeting would not emerge until many years later.

Ross had the flag ready in time for the first Fourth of July celebration. The new government made a flag resolution one of its earliest priorities. On June 14, 1777, 13 white stars in a circle on a blue background next to a field of 13 red and white stripes became the official composition of the United States flag. This “new constellation” was to represent the cosmic creation of a new country.

Flag Creator Ross or Pickersgill?

Betsy Ross shared the tale of Washington and the flag to only one person before her death. There are no official records to back up the details of her claim. Despite this, in 1888, Ross’ house became a nationally recognized treasure. The flag on display at the Smithsonian in Washington today is not the Betsy Ross flag. The 15 star flag is Old Glory and was sewn by Mary Pickersgill in 1813.

Mary Pickersgill received a commission from Fort Henry in Maryland. The request was for two flags: one for bad weather and one for good weather. Assisted by her daughters and servant, Pickersgill completed the two flags in seven weeks. The good weather flag was 30 feet by 42 feet and hung above the garrison of the fort. The flag flew during the Battle of Baltimore in the War of 1812.

The Battle of Baltimore was a blow against the British as the port defended itself against a 25 hour bomb and gun attack. Soldier and poet, Francis Scott Key observed the flag victoriously waving above the fort and became inspired. He was a soldier during the battle was so inspired by the triumph and the flag he wrote the “Star Spangle Banner.” Which became America’s national anthem in 1814.

The American Flag Today

A copy of the Star Spangled Banner still flies above Fort McHenry today just as American flags fly over every government building and historic site in the country. As the years passed more stars were added to the flag with 50 stars to represent the 50 states.

The flag remains America’s greatest symbol. It dresses main streets in the nation’s small towns, adorns the graves of the nation’s lost fighters and flies high above private homes year round. The American flag endures as the nation endures: a testament to the world’s first democratic nation.