U.S. Flag Day fast facts: History, how to properly dispose of American flag

President Woodrow Wilson declared U.S. Flag Day on June 14, 1916

(Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)
(Photo by William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Today is the 100th anniversary of Flag Day, the official observance in honor of the star-spangled banner that represents the United States of America.

The Second Continental Congress adopted the first American flag on July 14, 1777 and President Woodrow Wilson declared June 14 to be Flag Day in 1916. National Flag Day was then established by an Act of Congress in August 1949. 

Below are 13 more interesting facts about the American Flag and Flag Day from usa.gov and usconsulate.org unless otherwise noted: 

1. The American flag consists of 13 alternating red and white stripes that represent the 13 original colonies, and 50 white stars on a blue field, with each star representing a state. 

2. Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777 - 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.” 

3. The colors on the flag represent: Red: valor and bravery; White: purity and innocence; Blue: vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

4. Stars are considered a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial. The stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.

5. In the Pantone system the colors are: Blue PMS 282 and Red PMS 193.

6. The flag may have started it out with 13 stars, but over the years, it has displayed a wide number of stars. To see how the star field has grown throughout the years, click here. 

7. When an American flag appears worn or otherwise no longer appropriate for display, you should destroy it in a dignified way, preferably by burning. 

8. According to legend, President George Washington commissioned Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross to create the first flag for the new nation in 1776. However there is no evidence that supports this claim.  

9. It is customary to only display the flag from sunrise to sunset. A flag may be flown 24 hours a day, but it must be illuminated in some manner at night.

10. In 1916, Wilson established June 14 as a chance to "rededicate ourselves to the nation," as he wrote in his proclamation. He wanted Americans to take Flag Day to leave behind "every thought that is not worthy of our fathers' first vows in independence, liberty and right" and instead "stand with united hearts, for an America which no man can corrupt, no influence draw away from its ideals, no force divide against itself.”

11. The Pledge of Allegiance was penned in 1892. It read, "I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Congress put the phrase "under God" into the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.

12. In 1909, Robert Peary placed a flag at the North Pole and there are six American flags left on the moon from the Apollo missions.

13. Flag Day is observed nationwide, but Pennsylvania is the only state that recognizes it as a legal holiday.

American flag through the years 

The first American flag featured 13 stars and 13 stripes to represent the original colonies.

In 1818, an act of Congress set the standard that the flag would have 13 stripes representing the original 13 colonies with a star for each new state to be added in the blue field.

The 50th and final star on the current U.S. flag was added in 1960 after Hawaii received statehood in 1959. 

Between 1818 and 1960, there have been several variations of rows and star arrangements.

The current arrangement features nine rows of stars staggered horizontally and eleven rows of stars staggered vertically. 

How to properly dispose of American flag 

The American flag is a patriotic and important symbol of the U.S. and is treated with the utmost respect. 

The United States Flag Code outlines certain guidelines and etiquette for displaying the flag and proper disposal when it becomes torn or too tattered.

If an American flag can no longer serve as a symbol of the United States, it should be destroyed in a dignified manner. 

Burning the American flag after a proper retirement ceremony is the preferred method to dispose of a flag.

VFW.org offers these directions to properly dispose of a U.S. flag:

  • The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
  • It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.
  • Place the flag on the fire.
  • The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
  • After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.
  • Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.

The American Legion and other organizations also regularly conduct flag retirement ceremonies, often on Flag Day.

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