The Story Behind,
A New Star for the Flag
Colonel John D. Martz, Jr.
Army Information Digest – July 1959
The design of the 49 and 50 star flags by the US Army Quartermaster Corps.
Click photo to see full sized image
Quartermaster General MG Andrew T. McNamara and President Eisenhower
examine new 49 star flag
For the first time since 1912, the United States will officially unfurl a new flag on Independence Day, 4 July, when admission of Alaska as a state will be marked by the addition of another star to the blue union of the National Banner. The new flag will be in use only a year, since next 4 July a 50-star flag will have been adopted to signify the admission of Hawaii as a State.
Admission of Alaska brought to public attention the fact that, although Congress set forth the basic requirement for the original flag of the United States, and its modification upon admission of a new state, it did not specify details of design; nor did it specify just which governmental department or individual is responsible for modifying the design of the flag. It did specify, however, that the new flag shall come into use on the Independence Day of the year next succeeding the admission of the new state. Hence Hawaii’s 50th star will not be added until 1960.
THE first changing of the flag in 47 years brought about many suggestions and caused much discussion, which finally was resolved with the issuance on 3 January 1959 of Presidential Executive Order 10798. setting forth the design of the new flag as consisting of 49 stars arranged in seven row each row to be staggered.
Behind the order lay literally hundreds of suggestions and many concentrated hours of work by the Office of the Quartermaster General and especially the Heraldic Branch, Research and Engineering Division. Traditionally the president had always decided on the rearrangement of stars in the flag used by military organizations but for many years following adoption of the original flag of 13 stars and 13 stripes, wide variations existed in flags throughout the country outside the military service.
With proposals to admit the 49th and 50th states, considerable interest was invoked nationwide. Many suggested designs were sent to the Quartermaster General directly by individuals, while other designs which had bee sent to the President, Members of Congress and various executive departments were also forwarded to the Office of The Quartermaster General. The OQMG analyzed and cataloged all suggested designs. In 1957 and 1958 the file of suggested designs increased greatly. They came from practically every state of the Union, the District of Columbia, Alaska, Puerto Rico, and foreign countries.
After passage of the Act providing for admission of Alaska as a state, President Eisenhower on 27 September 1958 invited his three senior Cabinet officers–Secretary of State John Foster Dulles; Secretary of the Treasury Robert B. Anderson; Secretary of Defense Neil H. McElroy-and the Chairman of the Commission of Fine Arts Dr. David E. Finley, to constitute a committee to recommend the design for the 49-star flag.
The President expressed the desire that the 49th star be incorporated in the flag in a manner most in keeping with the design used in past years. The Department of the Army was designated executive agent for the staff work. Under provisions of Public Law 85-263, as implemented by the Secretary of the Army, the Quartermaster Corps furnishes heraldic services to all government offices and departments upon request. Besides compiling a study of the history of the flag, the Heraldic Branch analyzed over 1900 proposed designs, and prepared suggested designs for consideration of the President and his committee. Yeoman assistance was provided by the Heraldic Services Division, Quartermaster Activities, Cameron Station, Virginia. The Manufacturing Division, Philadelphia Quartermaster Depot also made several prototype flags, including the one unveiled by the President on 3 January 1959. Valuable assistance was given by The Quartermaster General, Maj. Gen. Andrew T. McNarara, and other Corps officers.
All in all, more than 1,900 designs or suggestions were received from 1,700 different sources–school children, individuals, associations, flag manufacturers. Many, of course, were duplicates, but even so more than 600 different designs were submitted for a 49 star flag, about 400 for a 50 star flag, and some even for 51 or more stars. The suggestions indicated a great deal of imagination, interest and love of country and flag.
Many suggestions were received for use of new symbols such as the dove of peace, the Cross, the Star of David, the Coat of Arms of the United States, shields, eagles, maps and many others. Still others wished to introduce words or phrases such as “Peace,” “In God We Trust,” “Freedom,” “E Pluribus Unum,” “Liberty for All,” or just simply “America”.
Most of the suggested designs were concerned with arrangements of the 49 stars, and some included placing them in a circle, or a star within a circle, or to form the initials “U. S. A.” Others wanted to form a wheel, and many suggested varying numbers of horizontal and vertical rows. Most prevalent suggestion was that the 49 stars be arranged in 7 rows of 7 stars each.
From all of these suggestions and from a study of the history and traditions of the flag, it finally was decided to recommend arrangement of the 49 stars in seven staggered rows. After some preliminary briefings of governmental and Department of Defense officials, a presentation with charts was made to President Eisenhower on 18 November 1958. The Presidential Executive Order followed.
BEHIND the work on the new flag lay much history and tradition. The basic design of the Flag of the United States was approved by Resolution of the Continental Congress on 14 June 1777, which provided “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,” Traditionally, red stands for hardiness and valor: white for purity and innocence; and blue for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
No reliable documentary evidence supports the popular story that the first flag was designed by Betsy Ross, or any other known individual. While the fundamental design was described in the 1777 resolution, no details were included. Consequently, early flags had stars with five points, others had stars with six, and some had eight. The stars were often positioned at various angles. Dimensions, proportions and arrangement of stripes also were unspecified. Early flags were influenced by individual interpretation and preference. Most of the 13 star flags were made with the stars arranged in a circle: however, in many other arrangements in common use, stars appeared in rows.
Admission of Vermont and Kentucky to the Union in 1791 and 1792, respectively, necessitated the first change to the Flag. This change was prescribed by Congress on 13 January 1794-the design to consist of 15 stripes and 15 stars, one stripe and one star for each state. As in the original flag description, many details of design, such as the arrangement of the stars, were not specified and several different star arrangements were used. Most flags of the period, however, had stars placed in rows. The flag which flew over Fort McHenry, the inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s “Star Spangled Banner”, had horizontal staggered rows of 3 stars each.
The second change to the flag design was prescribed by a Joint Resolution of Congress on 4 April 1818. Since 20 states were in the Union by this date, it was apparent it would not be practicable to add a stripe for each new state. The stripes reverted to the 13 of the original flag, with 20 stars being placed in the blue union. For the first time, the stripes were described officially as “horizontal.”
The 1818 resolution also provided for future changes. One provision stated, “on the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag, and that such addition shall take effect on the fourth of July then next succeeding such admission.” Thus a general pattern and effective dates for future changes were established.
After passage of the 1818 act, the Navy Department issued directive prescribing a design with four horizontal staggered rows of five stars each. John C. Calhoun, while Secretary of War, received a recommendation to consider an arrangement in which the rows were straight, vertically as well as horizontally. President Monroe decided that the military flags would be of the latter design, thus prescribing the arrangement of horizontal and vertical rows so often used since that date.
During the 94 years from 1818 to 1912, a total of 26 additional states were admitted; and 21 changes to the flag could have been made under provisions of the 1818 act, However, records do not substantiate there having been that many different numbers of stars used in flag designs.
Also during this period, two general patterns appear to have been used most frequently–one in which the stars were arranged symmetrically in straight even rows, the other with the stars in staggered rows.
0n 14 February 1912, following admission of New Mexico and Arizona, President Taft approved a Joint Army-Navy report recommending that the 48 stars be arranged symmetrically in six rows of eight stars each.
On 24 June 1912, Executive Order No. 1556 prescribed sizes and proportions of flags to be used by government departments, with the exception that military departments could prescribe such variations as they deemed necessary for troop and camp colors. Prior to this date 66 sizes, with varying proportions, had been used by governmental agencies alone. The order limited the sizes to 12, and announced these proportions:
Hoist (width) of flag 1
Fly (length) of flag 1.9
Hoist (width) of Union 0.5385 (7/13)
Fly (length) of Union 0.76
Width of each stripe 0.0769 (1/13)
Review of star arrangement of the flag shows that, of all designs, horizontal rows, either straight vertically or staggered, have been used most frequently since 1818, and this general pattern has been used altogether since the Civil War. The 49-star design thus perpetuates the general appearance of the Flag of the United States as it is known and recognized throughout the World.
Colonel John D. Martz, Jr, Quartermaster Corps, is Chief, Research and Engineering Division, Office of the Quartermaster General, Department of the Army.