Skip to main content

Adding stars to the US flag

When we think of the early flag of the United States, we often think of the version with 13 stripes and 13 stars in a circle in the blue field in the corner.  While this is accurate, this is not the only version of this particular flag that was common in the early days of the republic. The number 13 represents the number of colonies that revolted against Great Britain in 1776 to form the United States of America, of course.  According to the Continental Congress’s Flag Act of 1777, the stripes were to alternate red and white, but there was no rule to the layout of the stars.  Putting them in a ring was fine, but so was putting them in rows, or in a star shape, or whatever you might want. All that mattered was that there was 13.  As long as you got that right, nothing else mattered. By 1795, the United States had grown to 15 states, following the admissions of the state of Vermont (1791) and the commonwealth of Kentucky (1792).  A new flag was approved to reflect this. It had 15 stars and 15 stripes. This was the flag that Francis Scott Key observed in Baltimore Harbor when he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 1814.   The 15-star-and-stripe flag remained in use until 1818, when the country had grown to 20 states.  The new flag was to have 20 stars, but because the design was getting busy enough as it was, the number of stripes was reduced back to 13.  The new law also provided for how to handle the admission of new states. For every new state added, another star would be included. The new star would be added to the flag on the fourth of July following the admission of the new state to the Union.  There was still no official pattern for the field of stars. This changed following the admissions of the states of New Mexico and Arizona in 1912.  It was that year that the star pattern was standardized to have six rows of eight stars for the 48 states.  This version of the flag was the second-longest-running version of the flag, remaining unchanged until the admission of Alaska as the 49th state on January 3, 1959.  On July 4, the new flag had seven rows of seven stars. On August 21, 1959, Hawaii became the 50th state, and a new pattern was put into use on July 4, 1960, using five rows of six stars alternating with four rows of five stars.  This version of the US flag is the longest-running one yet. It’s still in use today.

This is the 13-star “Betsy Ross” design of the flag, in use from 1777 to 1795:

Versions of the 33-star flag, following the admission of Oregon in 1859 until the admission of Kansas in 1861, both equally valid at the time:

In the event of a 51st state getting added to the country, the flag will have to be redesigned. There is no official design for this yet; that will have to wait until the state is actually added. Recently, there has been a lot of talk about the addition of Puerto Rico and Washington, DC as states, which would bring the number up to 52. Here are likely designs for 51- and 52-star flags, should we ever need them:

This one looks more like the flag we have today—but look closely! This is a 55-star flag, maybe following the admission of five future states! Maybe we’ll never need it, but in case we do, we know how to handle it!


Popular posts from this blog

The Halley's Comet Panic of 1910

If you were around in 1986, you might remember the excitement surrounding the return of Halley’s Comet.  Halley’s Comet hadn’t been seen since 1910, and 76 years later, it was getting ready to make another pass by Earth.  Many who were excited probably wound up feeling a little disappointed. I’ll admit I was. I was sixteen, and was eager to see a bright ball in the sky with a burning tail lighting up the night.  All we got to see was a small, faint, comet-shaped light in the sky. It turned out that in 1986, the comet passed when the Earth was on the other side of the sun, so there wasn’t much to look at. We knew it was coming, though.  We’ve known this since 1705, when Edmond Halley predicted the comet would return on Christmas night, 1758.  Halley died in 1742, so he never got to see that he was correct—but he was correct. Halley’s calculations show that the comet will pass by Earth every 74 to 79 years, and these passes are predictable. When Halley’s Comet isn’t near Earth, …

Alcock and Brown: The First Transatlantic Flight

Since his celebrated landing in Paris 90 years ago, we often hear of Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic.  He flew solo, taking off from Roosevelt Field in Brooklyn and landing in Le Bourget field in Paris after a flight of 33½ hours in his cramped, lightweight plane, The Spirit of Saint Louis.  Lindbergh was one of several individuals or teams who were competing for the Orteig Prize: a $25,000 purse offered to the first to fly from New York to Paris, offered by wealthy New York hotelier Raymond Orteig.  Lindbergh took off and landed perfectly, and managed to navigate the whole way without getting lost.  This was quite a feat in the days before computers to aid navigation, or the elaborate system of air traffic control that would come into being, once commercial airlines started to develop.  What Lindbergh did immediately made him an international hero and a household name for years after, with streets and buildings and yes, airports, named after him.  To this day, Charles …