The meaning and history of the flag

Romalyn Aaron
Posted 6/16/18
June 14 is an important day in the United States: we celebrate Flag Day. Many people have no idea what Flag Day is. So, why do we have Flag Day?Have you ever wondered how the American flag came to …

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The meaning and history of the flag


June 14 is an important day in the United States: we celebrate Flag Day. Many people have no idea what Flag Day is. So, why do we have Flag Day?

Have you ever wondered how the American flag came to be? Have you attended a funeral honoring a veteran who served our country, or perhaps witnessed the folding of the flag that once covered the casket of a loved one? 

Each of the 13 folds of the flag holds great significance.

At the ceremony of retreat, a daily observance at bases during which all personnel pay respect to the flag, “the flag is lowered, folded in a triangle fold and kept under watch throughout the night as a tribute to our nation’s honored dead. The next morning, it is brought out and, at the ceremony of reveille, run aloft as a symbol of our belief in the resurrection of the body.”

In order to promote patriotism and Americanism, we need to have an understanding of the history of the American flag. 

Having knowledge of the history of our flag will help us understand why we fold the American flag as we do. 

Having knowledge of history of the flag and knowing the meaning of the 12 folds of the American flag, we are able to display patriotism and respect those men and women of the Armed Forces past, present, and future who are dedicated in protecting not only the greatest country in the world, but our freedom and our way of life.

The History of the American Flag

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed an act establishing an official flag for the new nation. The resolution stated: “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." 

On Aug. 3, 1949, President Harry S. Truman officially declared June 14 as Flag Day.

The history of our flag is as fascinating as that of the American Republic itself. It has survived battles, inspired songs and evolved in response to the growth of the country it represents. 

Historians believe it was designed by New Jersey Congressman Francis Hopkinson and sewn by Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross.

The name Old Glory was given to a large, 10-by-17-foot flag by its owner, William Driver, a sea captain from Massachusetts. Inspiring the common nickname for all American flags, Driver’s flag is said to have survived multiple attempts to deface it during the Civil War. 

Between 1777 and 1960 Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.

Today the flag consists of 13 horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. 

The stripes represent the original 13 colonies and the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. 

The colors of the flag are symbolic as well; red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.

The National Museum of American History has undertaken a long-term preservation project of the enormous 1814 garrison flag that survived shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by British troops. 

After a British bombardment, poet Francis Scott Key was so inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying over Baltimore's Fort McHenry that he wrote "The Star-Spangled Banner" on Sept. 14, 1814. It officially became our national anthem in 1931.

In 1892, the flag inspired James B. Upham and Francis Bellamy to write The Pledge of Allegiance. 

There are a few locations where the U.S. flag is flown 24 hours a day, by either presidential proclamation or by law:

-Fort McHenry, National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland

-Flag House Square, Baltimore, Maryland
-United States Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia
-On the Green of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts
-The White House, Washington, D.C.
-United States customs ports of entry
-Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

The meaning of the folds of the American Flag

• The first fold of our flag is a symbol of life.

• The second fold signifies our belief in eternal life.

• The third fold is made in honor and tribute of the veteran departing our ranks, and who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country to attain peace.

• The fourth fold exemplifies our weaker nature as citizens trusting in God; it is to Him we turn for His divine guidance.

• The fifth fold is an acknowledgment to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right, but it is still our country, right or wrong.”

• The sixth fold is for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

• The seventh fold is a tribute to our armed forces, for it is through the armed forces that we protect our country and our flag against all enemies.

• The eighth fold is a tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor our mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.

• The ninth fold is an honor to womanhood, for it has been through their faith, love, loyalty, and devotion that the character of the men and women who have made this country great have been molded.

• The 10th fold is a tribute to father, for he, too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first-born.

• The 11th fold, in the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

• The 12th fold, in the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost.

• The last fold, when the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our national motto, “In God We Trust.”