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July 31st, 2021

flag dayELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times

 

The U.S. flag has a very storied history and Monday, people throughout the U.S. can commemorate that history with Flag Day. 

The idea for the annual holiday was begun in the late 1800s, according to history.com. 

“Bernard Cigrand, a small-town Wisconsin teacher, originated the idea for an annual flag day, to be celebrated across the country every June 14, in 1885,” history.com noted. “That year, he led his school in the first formal observance of the holiday. Cigrand, who later changed careers and practiced dentistry in Illinois, continued to promote his concept and advocate respect for the flag throughout his life.”

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However, according to Veterans Affairs (VA), there are other claims of who tried first to get an annual Flag day started in the U.S.

“Observance of the adoption of the flag was not soon in coming. Although there are many claims to the first official observance of Flag Day, all but one took place more than an entire century after the flag’s adoption in 1777. The first claim was from a Hartford, Conn., celebration during the first summer of 1861,” the VA noted. “In the late 1800s, schools all over the United States held Flag Day programs to contribute to the Americanization of immigrant children, and the observance caught on with individual communities.  The most recognized claim, however, comes from New York. On June 14, 1889, Professor George Bolch, principal of a free kindergarten for the poor of New York City, had his school hold patriotic ceremonies to observe the anniversary of the Flag Day resolution. This initiative attracted attention from the State Department of Education, which arranged to have the day observed in all public schools thereafter. Soon the state legislature passed a law making it the responsibility of the state superintendent of public schools to ensure that schools hold observances for Lincoln’s Birthday, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day and Flag Day.”

Another attempt was made in 1897. 

“In 1897, the governor of New York ordered the displaying of the flag over all public buildings in the state, an observance considered by some to be the first official recognition of the anniversary of the adoption of the flag outside of schools,” the VA noted. “Another claim comes from Philadelphia. In 1893, the Society of Colonial Dames succeeded in getting a resolution passed to have the flag displayed on all of the city’s public buildings. Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin and the president of the Colonial Dames of Pennsylvania, that same year tried to get the city to call June 14 Flag Day. Resolutions by women were not granted much notice, however, and it was not until May 7, 1937, that Pennsylvania became the first state to establish the June 14 Flag Day as a legal holiday. Flag Day is a nationwide observance today, but Pennsylvania is the only state that recognizes it as a legal holiday.”

Ultimately, according to the VA, attempts continued into the 20th century. 

“Both President Wilson, in 1916, and President Coolidge, in 1927, issued proclamations asking for June 14 to be observed as the National Flag Day,” the VA noted. “But it wasn’t until Aug. 3, 1949, that Congress approved the national observance, and President Harry Truman signed it into law.”

There are several other interesting parts to the flag’s history, according to history.com. 

“It is widely believed that Betsy Ross, who assisted the Revolutionary War effort by repairing uniforms and sewing tents, made and helped design the first American flag,” history.com noted. “However, there is no historical evidence that she contributed to Old Glory’s creation. It was not until her grandson William Canby held an 1870 press conference to recount the story that the American public learned of her possible role. In the 1950s, when it seemed certain that Alaska would be admitted to the Union, designers began retooling the American flag to add a 49th star to the existing 48. Meanwhile, a 17-year-old Ohio student named Bob Heft borrowed his mother’s sewing machine, disassembled his family’s 48-star flag and stitched on 50 stars in a proportional pattern. He handed in his creation to his history teacher for a class project, explaining that he expected Hawaii would soon achieve statehood as well. Heft also sent the flag to his congressman, Walter Moeller, who presented it to President Eisenhower after both new states joined the Union. Eisenhower selected Heft’s design, and on July 4, 1960, the president and the high school student stood together as the 50-star flag was raised for the first time. Heft’s teacher promptly changed his grade from a B- to an A.”

The official Flag Code also has some rather specific rules, according to history.com. 

“The Flag Code stipulates that the Stars and Stripes should not be used as apparel, bedding or drapery,” history.com noted. “Unlike setting an intact flag on fire, flying one upside-down is not always intended as an act of protest. According to the Flag Code, it can also be an official distress signal. When flags are taken down from their poles, care must be taken to keep them from touching the ground. In fact, the American flag should always be kept aloft, meaning that rugs and carpets featuring the Stars and Stripes are barred by the Flag Code. The Flag Code strictly prohibits adding an insignia, drawing or other markings to the Stars and Stripes. Some American politicians have been known to defy this regulation by signing copies of the U.S. flag for their supporters.”

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