Preserving America's Historical Significance

The Shifting Flag

Did you know that the design of the American Flag has been officially changed 26 times since the Flag Resolution in 1777?  Prior to 1777, there were no official guidelines as to the design of the flag resulting in an unstandardized representation of the new country. Afterwards, since the Continental Congress had not specified how to arrange the stars when they wrote the Flag Resolution, many unique designs still cropped up.  For example, the Flag Resolution did not state how the stars were to be arranged on the blue field, so there were flags with stars in rows, a circle, and even a diamond shape.

Ask any elementary student the name of the person credited with designing and making the first American flag and it’s a sure bet the response will be Betsy Ross. The popular legend, initiated by Ross’s grandson William Canby, that Ross sewed the first American Flag for General George Washington, spread rapidly preceding the 1876 centennial celebrations. However, this is disputed amongst historians, as Betsy Ross was only one of at least 17 flag makers in Philadelphia.  A Ross biographer, Marla Miller, wrote that Ross’s contribution was to alter the design from a six-pointed star to a five-pointed one because they were easier for her to make.

However, the first designer for the national flag can be supported as Francis Hopkinson, American author and delegate, in 1777.  Hopkinson arranged the stars in a 3-2-3-2-3 pattern in the canton, with thirteen red and white alternating stripes. He sent a letter to Congress, mainly in jest, requesting payment for his services. He asked only for “a Quarter Cask of the public Wine,” which was not granted.

In 1795, after the inclusion of two more states into the union, the number of stars and stripes each increased to fifteen.  More new states joined the Union, but no alterations were made because many thought the flag would become cluttered.  That changed in 1818 after U.S. Naval Captain Samuel C. Reid sketched three designs for a Congressional committee charged with determining future modifications to the flag. Reid suggested reducing the number of stripes from fifteen to thirteen to honor the original colonies, and placing twenty stars in the blue field representing the number of states at that time.

In 1959, as adoption of a fiftieth state was approaching, Congress received thousands of designs for the new flag, settling on seventeen-year-old Robert G. Heft’s school project.  Heft, of Lancaster, Ohio, originally was given a B- for his flag, but his teacher told him that if Congress selected his design, Heft’s grade would be reconsidered.  Congress chose his flag and Heft’s grade was changed to an A. That same flag has been the longest used design for our nation’s colors in its entire history.

It’s interesting to see how a part of our national identity has changed over the years.  For a complete timeline of our nation’s flags, visit  Remember to hang this historied symbol out on Flag Day!