American Flag By The Lighthouse Window | Fire Island, New York

© Sophie W. Smith

Joined October 2012

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[Not 4 Sale]

The current design of the U.S. flag is its 27th; the design of the flag has been modified officially 26 times since 1777. The 48-star flag was in effect for 47 years until the 49-star version became official on July 4, 1959. The 50-star flag was ordered by former president Eisenhower on August 21, 1959, and was adopted in July 1960. It is the longest-used version of the U.S. flag and has been in use for over 56 years.

At the time of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, the Continental Congress would not legally adopt flags with “stars, white in a blue field” for another year. The flag contemporaneously known as “the Continental Colors” has historically been referred to as the first national flag.

The Continental Navy raised the Colors as the ensign of the fledgling nation in the American War for Independence—likely with the expedient of transforming their previous British red ensigns by adding white stripes—and would use this flag until 1777, when it would form the basis for the subsequent de jure designs.

The name “Grand Union” was first applied to the Continental Colors by George Preble in his 1872 history of the American flag.

The flag closely resembles the British East India Company flag of the era, and Sir Charles Fawcett argued in 1937 that the company flag inspired the design. Both flags could have been easily constructed by adding white stripes to a British Red Ensign, one of the three maritime flags used throughout the British Empire at the time. However, an East India Company flag could have from nine to 13 stripes, and was not allowed to be flown outside the Indian Ocean.

In any case, both the stripes (barry) and the stars (mullets) have precedents in classical heraldry. Mullets were comparatively rare in early modern heraldry, but an example of mullets representing territorial divisions predating the U.S. flag are those in the coat of arms of Valais of 1618, where seven mullets stood for seven districts. Read more

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