A Capitol Fourth - America's Independence Day Celebration
The Concert History of the Fourth Patriotic Reflections Fireworks and Fun

Old Glory
July 4th Over the Years Pierre L'Enfant and the National Mall Sousa: The March King Explore America's Past
Patriotic Notes and Quotes
What the Fourth Means to You

History of the Fourth


Old Glory - The History of the American Flag and How It Should Be Displayed

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed an act establishing an official flag for the new nation. The resolution ordered that "the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." On August 3, 1949, President Harry S. Truman commemorated the occasion by officially declaring June 14 as Flag Day.

  • While no one knows the exact origin of the first American flag, some historians believe it was designed by Congressman Francis Hopkinson and sewn by Philadelphia seamstress Betsy Ross.
  • The name “Old Glory” was given to a large, 10-by-17-foot flag. flag owned by William Driver, a sea captain from Massachusetts. Driver’s flag is said to have survived attempts to deface it during the Civil War. Driver was able to fly the flag over the Tennessee state house once the war ended. The flag was last displayed in an exhibit in 2006.
  • Between 1777 and 1960, Congress passed several acts that changed the shape, design and arrangement of the flag and allowed stars and stripes to be added to reflect the admission of each new state.
  • Today the flag consists of 13 horizontal stripes, seven red alternating with six white. The stripes represent the original 13 colonies, the stars represent the 50 states of the Union. The colors of the flag are symbolic as well, red symbolizes hardiness and valor, white symbolizes purity and innocence and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice.
  • The National Museum of American History has undertaken a long-term conservation project of the enormous 1814 garrison flag that survived the 25-hour shelling of Fort McHenry in Baltimore by British troops and inspired Francis Scott Key to compose "The Star-Spangled Banner." The flag had become soiled and weakened over time and was removed from the museum in December 1998. Conservation efforts began in June 1999, starting with the removal of the linen support backing that was sewn into place in 1914 using 1.7 million stitches. Painstaking steps must be taken to preserve the flag, including pH readings to measure the levels of acid or base in the fabric, color readings to analyze dyes in the fabric and fiber analysis through microscopic examination. A thorough vacuuming of all surfaces and large-format photographing of every section of the flag to benchmark its condition must also occur before conservation measures are undertaken.
  • The U.S. flag is flown 24 hours a day by either presidential proclamation or law at the following places:
    • Fort McHenry, National Monument and Historic Shrine, Baltimore, Maryland
    • Flag House Square, Baltimore, Maryland
    • United States Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima), Arlington, Virginia
    • On the Green of the Town of Lexington, Massachusetts
    • The White House, Washington, D.C.
    • United States Customs Ports of Entry
    • Grounds of the National Memorial Arch in Valley Forge State Park, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania

An Inspiration to All...

  • Amateur poet Francis Scott Key was so inspired by the sight of the American flag still flying over Baltimore's Fort McHenry after a British bombardment that he wrote the "The Star-Spangled Banner" on September 14, 1814. It officially became our national anthem in 1931.
  • In 1892, the flag inspired James B. Upham and Francis Bellamy to write "The Pledge of Allegiance." It was first published in a magazine called "The Youth's Companion."

Traveling Far and Wide...

  • In 1909 Robert Peary placed a flag, sewn by his wife, at the North Pole. He also left pieces of another flag along the way. It is the only time a person has been honored for cutting the flag.
  • In 1963, Barry Bishop placed the flag on top of Mount Everest.
  • In July 1969 the American flag was "flown" in space when Neil Armstrong placed it on the moon.
  • The first time the American flag was flown overseas on a foreign fort was in Libya, over Fort Derne, on the shores of Tripoli in 1805.

Display It with Pride...

  • The flag is usually displayed from sunrise to sunset. It should be raised briskly and lowered ceremoniously. In inclement weather, the flag should not be flown.
  • The flag should be displayed daily and on all holidays, weather permitting, on or near the main administration buildings of all public institutions. It should also be displayed in or near every polling place on election days and in or near every schoolhouse during school days.
  • When displayed against a wall or a window, the blue field should be uppermost and to the left of the observer.
  • When the flag is raised or lowered as part of a ceremony and as it passes by in parade or review, everyone, except those in uniform, should face the flag with the right hand over the heart.
  • The U.S. flag should never be dipped toward any person or object, nor should the flag ever touch anything beneath it.