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Flag of the United States
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Flag of the United States

The flag of the United States of America consists of thirteen equal horizontal stripes of red (top and bottom) alternating with white; there is a blue rectangle in the upper hoist-side corner bearing 50 small, white, five-pointed starss arranged in nine offset horizontal rows of six stars (top and bottom) alternating with rows of five stars. The 50 stars on the flag represent the 50 states and the 13 stripes represent the 13 original colonies.

The United States flag is commonly called the Stars and Stripes and less commonly Old Glory. Because the name Old Glory technically refers to the 48-star version used from 1912 to 1959, this usage connotes the history of the flag.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Traditions
3 Symbolism
4 Influences on other flags
5 Flag etiquette
6 See also
7 External links


The flag has gone through 26 changes since 13 of the British colonies in North America first adopted it. The 48-star version holds the record, 47 years, for the longest time the flag has gone unchanged. The current 50-star version will tie the record if it is still in use on July 4, 2007.

On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated: "Resolved, That the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation." Describing the new flag, the Congress wrote, "White signifies Purity and Innocence; Red, Hardiness and Valor; Blue signifies Vigilance, Perseverance and Justice." Flag Day is now observed on June 14 of each year.

As further states entered the union, extra stars and stripes were added until this had caused too much clutter. When this issue was brought up, it was decided that there would be a star for each state, but the number of stripes would remain at thirteen. It was the 15-star, 15-stripe flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner", now the national anthem.

When the flag design changes, the change always takes place on July 4 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a consequence of the Flag Act of April 4, 1818. July 4, Independence Day in the United States, commemorates the founding of the nation. The most recent change, from forty-nine stars to fifty, occurred in 1960, after Hawaii gained statehood. Before that, the admission of Alaska the year before prompted the debut of a short-lived 49-star flag.

The flag flew in battle for the first time at Cooch's Bridge in Maryland on September 3, 1777 during the American Revolutionary War.

The origin of the U.S. flag design is uncertain. A popular story credits Betsy Ross for sewing the first flag from a pencil sketch of George Washington who personally commissioned her for the job. However, no evidence for this theory exists beyond Ross's own records. The British historian Sir Charles Fawcett has suggested that the design of the flag may have been derived from the flag and jack of the British East India Company. Comparisons between the 2 flags support Fawcett's suggestion.


While institutions often display the flag year-round, most homeowners reserve flag display for civic holidays like Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, President's Day, Flag Day and the Fourth of July. On Memorial Day it is common to place small flags by war memorials and next to the graves of U.S. war dead.


To U.S. citizens, their flag symbolizes many things. They have seen it as representing all of the freedoms and rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights. Perhaps most of all they see it as a symbol of individual and personal liberty like those put forth in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

The approved method of destroying old and tattered flags consists of burning them in a simple ceremony. Burning the flag has also been used as a deliberate act of disrespect, at times to protest actions by the United States government, or sometimes in displays of Anti-Americanism. Some groups concerned by these actions have proposed a Flag Burning Amendment that would outlaw burning the flag in disrespect or protest.

Influences on other flags

The design and colors of the American "Stars and Stripes" have been the basis for a number of other flags, both past and present, some of which appear below:

Note especially the echoes in the colors and designs of several of the Flags of the Confederate States of America. Note also that the flag of Chile was influenced by the United States flag but it isn't shown above.

Flag etiquette

There are certain guidelines for the use and display of the United States flag as outlined in the United States Flag Code of the federal government.

Standards of respect

Contrary to a commonly believed urban legend, the flag code does not state that a flag which touches the ground should be burned. Instead, the flag should be moved so it is not touching the ground.

Displaying the flag outdoors

Displaying the flag indoors

Parading and saluting the flag

Pledge of Allegiance and national anthem

The flag, in mourning

Folding the flag

Flags, when not in use, should be folded into a triangle shape.

See also

External links

National flags
List of national flags | Gallery of national flags
List of national coats of arms