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

43-Man Squamish: An Innovation in Athletics

For some people, one of the most tantalizing challenges is being told, explicitly or implicitly, that you can’t do something.  In 1965, MAD magazine writer Tom Koch laid down one such challenge.  He wrote an article laying out the rules of a sport he invented called 43-man squamish.  The article was illustrated by artist George Woodbridge, and judging by the mail MAD received from its readers, it was a huge hit.  Of course, Koch didn’t really intend the article to be a challenge.  His idea was to invent a sport that was complex, convoluted, absurd, and ultimately unplayable.  It featured the kind of text readers of MAD, not athletes, would expect.  It’s an uncommon sport that has instructions like, “The offensive team, upon receiving the Pritz, receives five Snivels in which to advance to the enemy goal.  If they do it on the ground, it’s a Woomik and counts as 17 points.  If they hit it across with their Frullips it’s a Dermish which only counts points.  Only the offensive Niblings a…

Kick the Football, Charlie Brown

For nearly the entire run of Charles Schulz's Peanuts comic strip, one running gag has been the football gag.  The gag is simple: Lucy Van Pelt kneels down on the grass, holding a football in place, and tells Charlie Brown to kick it.  Charlie Brown gets a good running start, ready to give it a good, solid kick, but at the last minute, Lucy pulls it away.  The final panel usually has a miserable Charlie Brown laying on the ground while Lucy looks over him, holding the football, telling him in one way or another that he obviously shouldn't have trusted her.
The gag first appeared on November 14, 1951, when the strip was just over a year old.  In the first occurrence, the football was not held by Lucy but by Violet Gray, another little girl in Charlie Brown’s neighborhood.  (Violet would later become a minor character in the strip, and Lucy would become a major one.Lucy wouldn’t appear in the strip until the following year.)  The first football gag is quite a bit different from w…