The American flag is a national symbol of the United States of America. The flag shows a blue canton (upper-right field) called the union, which holds a star for each of the nation’s fifty states. The rest of the flag shows thirteen stripes – alternating red and white – to commemorate the initial thirteen British Colonies. Although today’s version has been in use longer than any other, the flag has undergone 26 distinct iterations since its inception, indicative of the country’s dramatic evolution since its founding.
June 14th, 1777 marked the Flag Resolution Act, which specified the American flag would have thirteen stripes, alternating red and white; and thirteen stars on a blue union. Although Flag Day still commemorates this decision, the resolution itself was fairly vague; it made no suggestion as to how the stars should be displayed. As a result, several equally official flags came into use, each with thirteen stripes, but a different union. These early designs include the Hopkinson flag (thirteen six-pointed stars in lines, similar to today’s version); the Cowpens flag, (twelve five-pointed stars arranged in a ring, a thirteenth in the center) and the Bennington Flag (an arc of eleven six-pointed stars circling a large “76”, with two more stars in the upper corners).
Today, the most iconic “first” flag is the “Betsy Ross flag” (the traditional stripes with a circle of thirteen five-pointed stars on the union). Legend holds George Washington himself provided seamstress Betsy Ross plans for the flag. Though taught as fact in America for generations, historians have grown increasingly skeptical of the tale due to lack of evidence. Indeed, the first written record of Ross' involvement comes from her own grandson, almost a century after Washington’s alleged visit.
Many writers, poets, and politicians have delivered inspiring interpretations of the flag’s symbolism – especially of its iconic colors. The truth is, historians can only guess why these colors where chosen, as no explanation was left behind; some historians even credit the simple availability of indigo (blue) and cochineal (red) dyes. Even if America does owe its flag’s colors to coincidental convenience, that doesn’t dilute its power as a symbol. As with all symbols, the true power comes from what it means to those who see it, regardless of how it came to be.