The History of the American Flag: A Timeline

The History of the American Flag:  A Timeline

Every heart beats true for the red, white, and blue – but does every heart know the interesting United States flag history? While the modern American flag has become a symbol around the world for freedom, justice, and prosperity, it has actually changed sixty three times over the past two hundred and thirty five years.  Some early designs of the flag would be unrecognizable to most modern Americans, and some even featured the British Union Jack.

Brush up on the fascinating story of our beloved Star-Spangled Banner and how she became the shining beacon of hope that she is today with in the following guide to the different American flags through history!

1775 – As revolutionary fever starts to swelter, several iterations of a flag representing the independence and discontent of the colonists begin to surface.  The Continental Navy starts to fly a flag with a red striped background featuring a snake, along with the inscription “Don’t Tread on Me.”  This sentiment and symbol will later be associated with the United States Marine Corps.

In New England, the “Liberty Tree” symbol becomes increasingly popular and appears on several flags.  The green pine tree shape was used on board New England ships with the phrase “An Appeal to Heaven,” while the flag for New England featured the Liberty tree in the upper left corner set bordered by red, white and blue stripes.

Liberty Tree Flag

1776 – On the first of January, The Grand Union Flag is flown on Prospect Hill and adopted as a symbol of the rebelling colonists.  The flag, originally designed in 1775, features the British Union Jack in the upper left corner surrounded by thirteen white and red stripes, symbolizing the thirteen colonies.

Grand Union Flag

Five months later, Betsy Ross, a Philadelphia seamstress, sews what is remembered as the first “American Flag,” featuring thirteen white stars laid in a circle on a blue background surrounded by thirteen red and white stripes.  Modern historians have called the validity of the Ross story into question; however, the story has become American folklore and is unlikely to be overruled in the public mind.

Betsy Ross Flag

1777 – After myriad variations of Ross’s design are sewn and utilized around the colonies during early Revolutionary battles, the Continental Congress officially adopts Ross’s original design as the first official flag of the fledgling country on June 14th.

1778-1794 – Alternative versions of the American flag continue to be produced and used by various prominent military outfits and sailing vessels in spite of the official adoption of the Ross design.  All versions utilize the red, white, and blue theme.  Different designs were likely used due to slow and inconsistent communication as well as the gradual transition of the thirteen colonies into states.  The last of the thirteen colonies to officially join The United States was Rhode Island in 1790.

1795 – The official design is modified and updated to include two more states into the Union:  Kentucky and Vermont. The stars pattern has now shifted away from the circle to five staggered rows.

15 Star American Flag

1814 – Inspired by the majesty of the flag and its visual impact during the War of 1812, Francis Scott Key pens a tune he titles “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The song’s patriotic message earns it national recognition.  It is officially adopted in 1931 as the national anthem.

1818 – The official flag is modified and updated to showcase five additional stars on the blue field in honor of Tennessee, Ohio, Louisiana, Mississippi and Indiana receiving state status.  The stars are now arranged in four rows of five across.

1819 – The flag is updated at the end of the year when Illinois is added into the Union.  The 21 stars are now arranged with one row of four with one row of five on top and two rows of five below.

1820 – Two more stars are added with the inclusion of Alabama and Maine.  The 23 stars are now arranged with one row of five with one row of six on top and two rows of six below.

1822-1867 – Fourteen more stars are added to the flag with the inclusion of Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Iowa, Wisconsin, California, Minnesota, Oregon, Kansas, West Virginia, Nevada and Nebraska.  There are now thirty seven stars on the American Flag.

37 Star American Flag

1861-1865 – The rival of the Stars and Stripes, the official flag of the Confederate States of America, is created.  This flag goes through three major iterations before the South falls to General Grant in 1865, including the “Stars and Bars,” which played off of Ross’s original design, “The Stainless Banner,” which featured the Confederate battle symbol (the blue starred “X” pattern on the red background) in the upper left corner of a white field, and “The Blood Stained Banner,” which added a red bar onto the right side of the second iteration.  There was also a popular though unofficial “Bonnie Blue Flag” that featured a deep blue field with one large white star on it. In popular memory, the Confederate Battle Flag is remembered as the flag of the confederacy, even though it was never officially considered that.

Stars and Bars FlagConfederate 2nd National FlagConfederate 3rd National FlagBonnie Blue FlagConfederate Battle

1886 – The centennial flag is created, replacing the traditional star field with stars shaped into the number “1776” above the number “1876.”

Centennial Flag

1877-1896 – Seven more stars are added for Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah.

1897 – State Flag Desecration Statutes begin to be adopted in states around the country to outlaw altering or abusing the flag for commercial and political purposes.  Among the specifics of the statutes were marking the flag, trampling the flag or talking negatively about the flag.  Also outlawed was the creation of flags that could be mistaken as the official American Flag.

1912 – The specific measurements, orientation, and details of the flag are officially established in a presidential executive order.  Three more stars are added for Arizona, New Mexico and Oklahoma (that was included as a state in 1908).  There are now 48 stars on the flag.

1949 – Flag Day, to be observed on June 14th, is established.

1959-1960 – Alaska and Hawaii are added to the Union and the final two stars are added to the flag.  The modern American Flag is officially complete, with five rows of alternating five and six stars staggered for visual appeal.

American Flag

2013 – The United States Flag continues to be a symbol of hope and freedom to billions of people around the world.

For more information on the American Flag, check out the following resources:
History of the American Flag -
Flag of the United States -
Flag Timeline -

Visit All Star Flags to look through our fine collection of American Flags for sale.

Related Pages:

Historical Flags

Gadsden Flag History

What Star on the Flag are You

Top 10 American Flag Moments

Nylon American Flags for Sale


By Chad Creech, All Star Flags