5 Things You Didn’t Know About the American Flag

Old Glory.  Stars and Stripes.  The Red-White-and-Blue.  Whatever you call her, the American Flag has stood for freedom and American values for nearly two-and-a-half centuries.  But how much do you really know about our nation’s flag?  Here are a few facts that are guaranteed to help you win your next trivia competition…

Who really designed the Stars-and-Stripes?  From our earliest days in elementary school, we’ve been taught that Betsy Ross created the original design for the American Flag.  The story originated with Ross’ grandson, who presented the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia with affidavits signed by family members as the only evidence of his grandmother’s involvement in designing the flag.  However, many historians name Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as the flag’s actual designer.  In fact, early journals of the Continental Congress clearly name Hopkinson as the person who designed the flag. 

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And who designed today’s flag?  Believe it or not, the flag as we know it today came from a design created by 17-year-old Robert G. Heft as part of a high school history project.  Robert’s design added two new stars, in anticipation of the addition of Alaska and Hawaii as the country’s 49th and 50th states, respectively.  Although he received a B- for his project, his design was presented to Congress, and ultimately chosen as the flag’s new design.  (Post script:  His teacher changed his grade to an A.)

The Story Behind the Original “Star-Spangled Banner”:  In 1813, Mary Pickersgill, her daughter, two nieces and an indentured servant crafted an American flag that measured 30 feet high by 42 feet long.  The gargantuan banner flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore.  A year later, after a 25-hour barrage by the British navy in Baltimore Harbor, American poet Francis Scott Key looked out onto the fort from his ship and noticed the flag still flying – hence the inspiration for his poem that was to become our National Anthem.  Today, the flag (minus wear and tear and little bits cut off to be used as souvenirs and awards) is on display at the Smithsonian Institute. 

The American Flag’s Official Pantone Colors:  Just like Tiffany’s iconic blue box and Coca-Cola’s unmistakable red, the Flag of the United States has official colors on the Pantone chart:  Red PMS 193 and Blue PMS 282.  The colors are also known by their original names, “Old Glory Red” (or OG Red) and “Old Glory Blue” (or OG Blue).

The Sad Story behind Gilligan’s Island:  The next time you watch earlier (black-and-white) episodes of the iconic 60s TV show, Gilligan’s Island, pay close attention to the show’s opening credits.  About 22 seconds in, as the boat is leaving the harbor for its three-hour-tour, you’ll see on a distant shore an American flag at half-staff.  This is because the pilot episode finished shooting on November 22, 1963 – the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

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