History of Flag Day

American FlagEvery summer, we pull out our flags to honor our country, but what’s behind the day set aside for Stars and Stripes? Here’s a brief history of Flag Day.

The first Flag – 13 stars in a field of blue bordered on two sides by thirteen alternating red and white stripes — was, by some accounts, made by Betsy Ross. It was her grandson who claimed and wrote a book about how Betsy Ross was responsible for our first national banner. Historians dispute the claim and say the first flag may have been the work of one of 17 other people making flags in Philadelphia at the time. Regardless of who came up with the design, we’ve been celebrating it for the last 200 years or so.

The Decision It was on June 14, 1777 that the Continental Congress decided on the American Flag design. It wasn’t long after that it was carried into battle for the first time at the Battle of Brandywine and later first flown over foreign territory in Nassau, Bahama Islands where a British fort was seized. But the idea of giving American Flag a day of formal recognition didn’t come for more than a century and 13 star additions – and even then, it was a slow movement.

How it Started It started in June of 1885 with a school teacher in Wisconsin who sparked enthusiasm for a day designated to honor the American Flag.  According to the National Flag Day Foundation, the teacher displayed a 10-inch flag on his desk and had his students write essays about it. Four years later and with similar enthusiasm, another teacher in New York planned ceremonies for students to pay tribute to the Flag. By 1891 the idea caught on and the celebration spread to Philadelphia. By 1893, the superintendent of Philadelphia Public Schools declared the observance for the American Flag and on June 14th all Philadelphia school children assembled in Independence Square, equipped with small flags to sing patriotic songs and honor the flag.

Making it Legal The following year, the governor of New York ordered American Flags to be flown from all public buildings on June 14th and in Chicago, 300,000 school children gathered in parks around the city for Flag Day ceremonies. President Wilson established a proclamation to make June 14th Flag Day in 1916, but it wasn’t until 1949 that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th as Flag Day.

Today Flag Day is celebrated with parades –many towns claim to have the oldest parade — Fairfield, Washington celebrated 100 years of Flag Day parades in 2010, but Quincy, Massachusetts says its parade is the longest running Flag Day of its kind – which has been going on since 1952.

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