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A New Flag for a New Nation
It probably wasn’t Betsy Ross.
Legend has it Elizbeth Griscom (aka Betsy Ross) got the gig as founding flagmaker based on her speed at sewing five-sided stars.
Yet despite what reenactors roaming Old City would have you believe, most historiansv say that Betsy Ross didn’t design the first official American flag.
But the first American flag represented a tricky messaging balance for a new nation.
And like so many logos, it’s seen a lot of revisions and updates over the years.
In the lead up to the revolution, the nation’s first “official” flag had the recognizable red and white stripes, but the UK flag in the upper-left corner. It was similar to the flag used by the British East India Company. This was a strategic messaging tactic, designed to symbolize loyalty to Great Britain along with a desire to self-govern. More revolutionary factions flew flags with only “rebellious stripes” symbolizing dissent.
With independence declared, the new nation needed a new message – and a new flag. At Valley Forge, George Washington flew an all-blue flag with 13 stars.
Whoever designed the first official flag combined the stripes and the stars on blue, which was approved with the Flag Act in June 1777.
A Nation’s Brand Guidelines
Even that official flag had pretty vague rules as far as brand guidelines go. According to the first Flag Act:
“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.”
There were no standards around the orientation of the stripes, where the blue was supposed to go or how the stars should be positioned.
Subsequent laws have put more design standards in place, including adding a star for each new state.
The flag received another messaging pivot during the Civil War, when it became a popular symbol of unity for Northern states. This is also when the Betsy Ross legend gained popularity and the Flag Day holiday was first floated.