The origins of the American flag

Before the stars and stripes was adopted, the colonies and militias in America had many different flags including the famous Rattlesnake flag with the motto, "Don't Tread On Me." Another interesting navel flag had a white background and a green pine tree and the motto, "An Appeal to Heaven."  However, many of the flags used were actually a version of the British Union Jack.  Obviously, as the colonies prepared for war against Britain, they needed a new flag!

So what are the origins of the American flag? No one really knows for sure, but many historians believe the story Betsy Ross told her children about sewing the first American flag. She said three members of the secret Continental Congress, George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross, came to visit her in late May 1776 and asked her to make them a new flag.  Since she sat next to George Washington at church and was married to George Ross' nephew, it shouldn't be a surprise they chose her. As a widow with an upholstery business, Betsy had made many flags before.

Apparently, when the three men visited her, George Washington showed her a design with a six-pointed star that had been designed by Congressman Francis Hopkinson.   However, Betsy whipped out her scissors and showed the men how she could fold a piece of cloth and cut a five pointed star with one snip.  Impressed, the committee agreed she could do the flag.  Her story is that the flag was finished by June and then flown when  the Declaration of Independence was read at Independence Hall for the very first time.

Betsy would be widowed two more times during the war, along with having the British take over her house to quarter soldiers.  When the British left, she joined the war effort by weaving bags to hold gunpowder for the soldiers in Washington's army.

When the war was over, the Continental Congress declared on June 14, 1777, that there would be a national flag with 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 white stars on a blue background.  The Congress hoped the American flag would unify the country since the end of the war had once again brought out the differences between the states.

How did the American flag get the nickname "Old Glory?" When those divisions led to the Civil War, a very large 10-by-17 foot American flag, owned by a Massachusetts sea captain named William Driver, got the nickname "Old Glory" because it survived several attempts by Confederates to destroy it. Afterward, the flag flew over the Tennessee statehouse as a memorial of the undivided Union.

How did the American flag come to look like it does today?  From 1777 through 1960, Congress added stars and stripes to show the new states added to the Union.  However, the current design of the American flag was actually done as a class project by a 17-year-old high school student named Robert Heft.  His teacher did not like his project and gave him a low grade, telling him she would only raise his grade if he got it accepted by members of Congress.  Hess took that as a challenge, and his design was accepted in 1959.

Today's flag has seven red stripes alternating with six white ones.  These 13 stripes represent the original 13 colonies.  There are 50 white stars for the 50 states on a background of blue.  The red on the flag symbolizes valor, while the white symbolizes purity and the blue is for justice.  The American flag is the most recognizable symbol of the United States.

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