When is Flag Day and Five Must-Know American Flag Facts

By Mike Case

“Resolved, that the Flag of the thirteen United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be thirteen stars, white on a blue field, representing a new constellation.” – Saturday, June 14, 1777; Journals of the Continental Congress

There are many famous stories about the American flag, from Betsy Ross to the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima, to firefighters raising the flag at Ground Zero in New York after 9/11.

To help celebrate Flag Day on June 14, which is the “birthday” of the American flag, here are 5 less well-known facts that you might not know about the “Red, White and Blue”:

Photo credit National Museum of American History

The original “Old Glory” owned by Captain William Driver, now in the collection of the National Museum of American History.

#1 “Old Glory” is one of the most famous nicknames for the American flag.

The first U.S. flag to be called “Old Glory” was flown by an American sea captain in the 1820s and in the U.S. Civil War, the flag was hidden in a quilt to save it from being seized by Confederate forces. Today, the original “Old Glory” is part of the collection at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C..

#2 During the Civil War, the United States flew four different versions of the national flag.

Photo credit Library of Congress

A Civil War envelope showing the American flag flying high over a burning Fort Sumter with message “Remember Fort Sumter!”

This included the 33-star version that flew over Fort Sumter, South Carolina, in 1861, at the beginning of the war, as well as the 36-star version that was used at end of the war, after Nevada joined the Union in October 1864.

#3 Most people are familiar with the first American flag that was planted on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission by Neil Armstrong in July 1969.

Photo credit National Archives

A view of Station Lunar Module (LM) and the Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) as Charles M. Duke, Jr., honors the flag, the nation and the American people in this salute to the Stars and Stripes in April 1972.

However, there are five other American flags on the Moon left by later Apollo missions. Scientists aren’t sure what condition they are in, but there is some evidence that at least one is still standing. Unfortunately, the Apollo 11 flag is probably not one of them.

Photo credit U.S. Army

Flag of the U.S. Army authorized by President Eisenhower in 1956.

#4 The American flag and the U.S. Army share the same birthday.

However, the official flag of the U.S. Army wasn’t authorized until an executive order by President Eisenhower in 1956.

The Star Spangled Banner/Great Garrison Flag that flew over Fort McHenry in 1814, seen here on display in 1873. | Photo credit George Henry Preble/National Star-Spangled Banner Centennial Commission/Public Domain

#5 The flag that inspired Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner” is known as the Great Garrison Flag.

It was made by a Baltimore flag maker named Mary Pickersgill and five other women. In 1814, there were 15 states in the Union, so the flag Scott Key saw that morning featured 15 stars and stripes; at that time, a new star and a new stripe were added to the flag to represent new states joining the Union as the U.S. grew. The Congressional Act of 1818 formally established adding a new star to represent new states and set the number of stripes back to the original 13.

Bonus: Did you know that the USO has an official flag?

Just like the American flag, it also has evolved and undergone changes throughout the years, including the number of stars. The original USO flag featured six stars, representing the six organizations that joined together to form the USO in 1941.

Photo credit USO Photo

The American flag flies proudly above the original USO flag at a USO center, which was built to support service members fighting in World War II.

Between 1951-1957, the flag displayed 7 stars. The 7th star represented USO Camp Shows Inc., which operated in a partner role as its own entity until 1957, when it merged with the national USO organization. Other changes to the flag have been to the shape of the letters and the arrangement of the official USO colors, which are appropriately named “Old Glory Red” and “Old Glory Blue.”

-This story was originally published in 2020. It has been updated for 2023.

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