The flag gate, above, was created for the 1876 American Centennial, and is now housed in the American Folk Art Museum in New York.
In honor of America’s Independence Day, also know as the Fourth of July, we have created a brief quiz to test your knowledge of Stars & Stripes history. For those of our readers not based in the U.S., we will handicap you two free answers. Good luck! Happy Fourth.
1. Who designed the American flag?
a. George Washington
b. Betsy Ross
c. Thomas Jefferson
d. Francis Hopkinson
2. The Star Spangled Banner, America’s most famous flag, has how many stars and stripes?
a. 13 stars and 13 stripes
b. 15 stars and 13 Stripes
c. 15 stars and 15 stripes
d. 18 stars and 13 stripes
3. What year was the Stars and Stripes adopted by Congress?
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4. Is it illegal to burn the American flag?
c. On occasion
5. On what date are new stars added to the flag?
a. January 1, after a states’ admission to the Union
b. June 14, after a states’ admission to the Union
c. July 4, after a states’ admission to the Union
6. How many stars are on the flag that has flown the longest over the United States?
a. 48 stars
b. 36 stars
c. 50 stars
c. 13 stars
As we celebrate Independence Day in the U.S., it seems fitting to give credit where credit is due to Francis Hopkinson, who substantial evidence shows designed the first American flag in 1777. Hopkinson, a New Jersey lawyer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, had a natural love of heraldry and art, and dabbled at graphic design (a profession that didn’t exist back then). During the American Revolution, Hopkinson was serving as chairman of the Navy Board’s Middle Department, when it got an urgent request to come up with an official banner of some sort that soldiers could carry into battle. At the time, the rebelling colonies were flying a flag that featured a variation of the British Union Jack in the canton surrounded on three sides with horizontal red and white stripes. (It looked like a knock-off of the British East India Company flag.)
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In the U.S., July 4th is a national holiday commemorating the day in 1776 when the tiny 13 American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain, instigating a revolutionary war that lasted eight long years. From a graphic standpoint, the American flag is unique because change is built into it. Each time a state joined the Union, it got its own star on the flag. The 50th and most recent star was added in 1959 when Hawaii won statehood. The flag’s appearance has remained constant since then. This video, produced by Kit Hinrichs, presents a chronology of when states entered the Union, how that changed the look of the flag, and which Presidents served under each version of the flag. Yes, we did run this video last Fourth of July, but we thought the John Philip Sousa’s tune “Stars and Stripes Forever” would be an invigorating way to celebrate the holiday. By the way, Sousa who was born in Washington D.C. is a classic American “melting pot” story. His father was born in Spain of Portuguese parents and his mother was born in Bavaria. Happy Fourth, enjoy the hot dogs and watermelon but don’t light fireworks if you live in a fire zone.
The occasion of America’s Independence Day on July 4th offers a good time to reflect on how the Star-Spangled Banner became the official flag of the nation. It all started back in 1777. A ragtag army of American colonists was engaged in a fierce battle for independence from Great Britain. Designing an aesthetically pleasing flag to represent themselves was the last thing on their mind. Outnumbered, outspent and outmaneuvered, the Continental Congress had more urgent matters to deal with.
But an emissary from a pro-colonist Native American tribe forced Congress to act by requesting a banner of sorts to display so that scouts would not come under “friendly fire” while on missions for the Continental Army. To prove they were willing to “pay” for such a flag, the emissary included three strings of wampum. Congress hastily put a flag design on its agenda, and 11 days later: “RESOLVED: that the flag of the United states be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be 13 stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” This resolution was one of many passed that day. The committee obviously didn’t give the matter much thought, but “borrowed” liberally from several sources, including the Sons of Liberty red-and-white “stripes of rebellion” banner and the 13-star blue canton of the New Hampshire Green Mountain Boys and Rhode Island Continental Regiment.
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As we in the United States celebrate Independence Day (aka Fourth of July), those of us in design communications can marvel at the freedoms that technology now allow. The living photograph here by Mole and Thomas was taken decades before the invention of Photoshop or even 35mm handheld cameras.
Around 1918, during the height of World War I patriotic fervor, Arthur S. Mole, a British-born photographer based in Zion, Illinois, joined forces with John D. Thomas, a choir director who liked to position choir members to form various religious icons-a talent that made him the perfect photo choreographer for Mole’s grandiose ideas. Together the two set about creating gigantic patriotic symbols by using military personnel essentially as “human pixels” and then photographing them.
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