The U.S. Flag: Origin and Design

The first U.S. flag was raised by George Washington on January 2, 1776 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That flag had 13 red and white stripes, and a blue canton (the right corner) with the crosses of St. George and St. Andrew. This flag was known as the Grand Union flag. Before that time, each colony had its own flag.



New Jersey





South Carolina

New Hampshire


New York

North Carolina

Rhode Island

On June 14, 1777, Congress decreed 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." The States took slightly longer for their individual governning bodies to ratify the new Constituation, from Delaware(1) in 1787 to Rhode Island(13) in 1790.

Vermont(14) in 1791 and Kentucky(15) in 1792. This flag with 15 stars and 15 stripes, was adopted by a Congressional act of 1794. The flag became effective May 1, 1795.

That precedent was followed until 1818 Congress reinstated the original 13 stripes, representing the first colonies and decided to add a star for each new state. The stars are added on July 4th, following the granting of statehood. A flag with 50 stripes would be very strange.

Mississippi(20) December 10, 1818 - 20 Stars July 4, 1819

By 1861, the nation had 34 states. Even after the South seceded from the Union, President Lincoln would not allow any stars to be removed from the flag.

Confederate States of America 1861 - 1865
South Carolina Dec 20, 1860 Stars and Bars - Confederate Battle Flag
Confederate Battle Flag
Confederate Flags and History
Mississippi Jan 9, 1861
Florida Jan 10, 1861 Alabama Jan 11, 1861
Georgia Jan 19, 1861 Louisania Jan 26, 1861
Texas Feb 1, 1861 Virginia Apr 17, 1861
Arkansas May 6, 1861 Tennessee May 6, 1861
North Carolina May 20, 1861

North Dakota(39) and South Dakota(40) admitted November 2, 1889. President Benjamin Harrison went to great lengths to obscure the order in which the statehood proclamations were signed, the exact order in which the two states entered is unknown. However, because of alphabetical position, North Dakota is often considered the 39th state.

Montana(41) admitted November 8, 1889

Washington(42) admitted November 11, 1889

admitted July 4, 1890. Boise's Idaho Statesman published the text of a telegram that Idaho's territorial delegate to Congress, Fred Dubois, had sent to territorial governor George L. Shoup the day before: "The President has just signed the bill making Idaho the forty-third State. Present my congratulations to the good people of Idaho. Turn the eagle loose."

A page earlier in the paper, a news story dated July 1 reported that the Senate had passed Idaho's statehood bill that same day. The story also reported that Dubois planned to ask President Benjamin Harrison to sign the bill into law on July 4--"the anniversary of American independence, and a date, which...will be doubly celebrated for years to come in the Territory soon to become a State."

Why did Harrison sign the bill a day earlier than Dubois wanted? Because of a section of federal law. Whenever a new state comes into existence, a new star is added to the flag. But the new star is official on the Fourth of July after the President signs the statehood bill. Rather than wait a full year for Idaho's star, Harrison signed the bill in time to make our 43rd star official the next day. My 42 Star Unofficial Flag

StateYearMonthDay Stars
to Flag
July 4th
of Stars
on Flag
Delaware 17871207177713
Pennsylvania 17871212 13
New Jersey 17871218 13
Georgia 17880102 13
Connecticut 17880109 13
Massachusetts 17880206 13
Maryland 17880428 13
South Carolina17880523 13
New Hampshire 17880621 13
Virginia 17880625 13
New York 17880726 13
North Carolina17891121 13
Rhode Island 17900529 13
Vermont 17910304179514
Kentucky 17920601 15
Tennessee 17960601 16
Ohio 18030301 17
Louisiana 18120430181818
Indiana 18161211 19
Mississippi 18171210 20
Illinois 18181203181921
Alabama 18191214 22
Maine 18200315182023
Missouri 18210810182224
Arkansas 18360615183625
Michigan 18370126183726
Florida 18450303184527
Texas 18451229184628
Iowa 18461228184729
Wisconsin 18480529184830
California 18500909185131
Minnesota 18580511185832
Oregon 18590214185933
Kansas 18610129186134
West Virginia 18630620186335
Nevada 18641031186536
Nebraska 18670301186737
Colorado 18760801187738
North Dakota 18891102 39
South Dakota 18891102 40
Montana 18891108 41
Washington 18891111 42
Idaho 18900703189043
Wyoming 18900710189144
Utah 18960104189645
Oklahoma 19071116190846
New Mexico 19120106 47
Arizona 19120214191248
Alaska 19590103195949
Hawaii 19590821196050
Official US Flags
The United States Flag Page
US Flag Rules and Regulations