As the third oldest of the National Standards of the world, the United States Flag has gone through many changes One of the most visible changes has been the number of stars it contains.
From the first unofficial national flag of 1776 raised at Prospect Hill in Charlestown to the first official national flag formally approved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, the flag had its 13 stars representing the original thirteen colonies. While the Congress specified the 13 stars, it did not specify a pattern, so three rows of varying numbers of stars equaling thirteen were common with the ring of stars being only one.
The year’s 1791 and 1794 saw the admittance of Vermont and Kentucky respectively to the Union, which raised the number of stars and stripes to fifteen. The growing Union soon realized that adding both stars and stripes for each new state would be impossible. On April 4, 1818 a congressional Act proclaimed that there would henceforth be 13 stripes and one star for each state with additional stars added to the flag on the 4th of July following the admission of each new state.
There were many star patterns used throughout the 19th century that ranged from circular to rectangular until the adoption of the 48-star flag in 1912. That is when an Executive Order of President Taft dated June 24, 1912 established standardized flag proportions and the star arrangement to be six horizontal rows of eight each with a single point of each star to point upward.
A January 3, 1959 Executive Order by President Eisenhower provided for the arrangement of the stars in seven rows of seven stars each, staggered horizontally and vertically. This flag design was short lived with Hawaii gaining statehood in August 1959. The most recent change, from 49 stars to 50, occurred in 1960 when the present design was chosen.
When we look at the history of the U.S. flag from 1777 to 1960 there were 27 versions of the flag with 25 of those changes due to the changing number of stars. While the colors of the flag have no official meaning, Secretary of the Continental Congress Charles Thomson suggested the following symbolism when the Great Seal was introduced:
“White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valor, and Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice.”