On June 14, we celebrate the birthday of Old Glory, commemorating the adoption of the “Stars and Stripes” as the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777. Flag Day was the brain child of Bernard J. Cigrand, a nineteen year old teacher from Waubeka, Wisconsin. On June 14, 1885, Cigrand placed a small, 38-star flag on his desk, and assigned his students to write essays on what the flag meant to them.
Over the years Cigrand authored hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles promoting June 14 as a day of celebration and recognition of the flag. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation establishing Flag Day as an annual national event, but it wasn’t until 1949 that President Harry S. Truman signed legislation properly designating June 14 as Flag Day.
Manhattan Public Library offers several titles for vexillologists (people who study flags) fascinated by the Red, White and Blue. “Flag: An American Biography: by Marc Leepson traces the evolution of the American flag, illuminating many of the colorful and significant Americans who shaped its history. Individuals such as Joe Rosenthal, whose famous photograph of Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima captured one of the most iconic images of the flag.
Arnaldo Testi reveals the central importance of the flag to the creation of the United States in “Capture the Flag: The Stars and Stripes in American History.” Testi explores the political, social, and cultural significance of the flag and analyzes its symbolic importance to our national character.
Kevin and Peter Keim have written a beautifully illustrated book, “A Grand Old Flag,” narrating the flag’s intriguing history. In addition to the photographs, drawings, and other images, the authors provide dozens of facts and stories about the flag. One such story recounts the fascinating journey of Sergeant Gilbert Bates, Union Civil War veteran, who in 1868 walked through the once Confederate South carrying an unfurled Star-Spangled Banner.
Whether or not she sewed the first flag, Betsy Ross occupies a special place in the American consciousness. Marla Miller reconstructs the life behind the legend of the famous seamstress in “Betsy Ross and the Making of America.” Among the interesting items presented in this book is the fact that Betsy Ross continued to made flags for the nation long after the Revolution ended. Her flags flew over garrisons from New Orleans to the Great Lakes, and from the Mississippi River in the west to the Delaware in the east.
The library owns several titles about the flag for younger readers. “The Flag Maker” by Susan Campbell Bartoletti recounts the story of another flag-maker, Mary Pickersgill, and her young daughter Caroline. This richly illustrated book is about the War of 1812, and the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the words that became the national anthem.
Todd Ouren illustrated the lyrics to George M. Cohan’s patriotic song in You’re a Grand Old Flag. This picture book chronicles the history of the American flag, and includes instructions for making a flag wind sock.
Finally “Flags of the Fifty States and Their Incredible Histories” by Randy Howe gives budding vexillologists a complete guide to America’s most powerful symbols. Each chapter features a different state flag, explaining its design and history.
While our flag has a long and glorious history, it is far from being the oldest national flag.
The flag of Denmark holds that distinction. The Dannebrog dates back to the thirteenth century.
The Union Jack of the United Kingdom is the most recognizable flag symbol, used in the national flags of Australia, New Zealand, and several other countries, as well as several Canadian provincial flags, and the state flag of Hawaii.
Flags were used first to coordinate troop movements on the battlefield. By the early seventeenth century, ships were flying flags to designate their nationality. Most national flags date to the end of the eighteenth century.
You can find information about the flag and Flag Day on the National Flag Day Foundation website www.nationalflagday.com. For more history and everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the flag, visit www.usflag.org. If you’re interested in the flags of other nations, explore the World Flag Database www.flags.net featuring the flags of 260 countries, territories, and regions.