Our current design started as a high school assignment. We didn’t have an official flag for the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the original 13-star flag was modified 26 times.
For the official flag to be declared, it took until 1777 when the 2nd Continental Congress passed the Flag Resolution which stated:
“Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
The flag was also made of hemp and became known as the “Betsy Ross flag” although it’s not confirmed whether or not she actually made it.
In 1795, the number of stars and stripes were increased from 13 to 15 (to reflect the entry of Vermont and Kentucky as states of the Union). This version inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star Spangled Banner”
Over time the stripes were reduced to 13 from 15 to honor the original colonies. Eventually we badly needed a new design to increase the number of stars to represent our 50 states. Robert G. Heft, who was only 17 years old, created a flag design in 1958 as a high school class project while living with his grandparents in Ohio.
Heft originally received a B for the design but his teacher, Stanley Pratt, said his grade would be reconsidered if his design was chosen and adopted by presidential proclamation after Alaska and before Hawaii were admitted into the union in 1959.
Once chosen, his teacher changed his grade to an A. Heft has also stated he had copyrighted designs for American flags with 51 to 60 stars. Bob Heft recounted to StoryCorps the tale of his design being chosen among about 1,500 submitted to become the 27th official U.S. flag:
In an American history class, we had to do an outside of class project. We could make or do whatever we wanted, like a science fair or something like that where you bring your project in.
The Betsy Ross story intrigued me. My Mom and Dad had a 48 star flag they received as a wedding present, which of course meant a lot to them. Well, I took scissors and cut it up. I had never sewn in my life. I watched my mom sew, but I’d never sewn. And since making the flag of our country, I’ve never sewn again.
So anyhow we get to class, I had my flag on my teacher’s desk. The teacher said, “What’s this thing on my desk?” So I got up and approached the desk, and I’m shaking like a leaf and he says “Why have you got too many stars? You don’t even know how many states we have.” (He had added more for the potential new states of Alaska and Hawaii being added to the U.S.) And he gave me the grade of a B-.
Now, a B- wasn’t that bad of a grade. However, a friend of mine, Jim, picked up 5 leaves off the ground, he’s taping these leaves down to a notebook and labeled them elm, hickory, maple, and the teacher gave him the grade of an A.
I was really upset, teacher said, “If you don’t like your grade, get it accepted into Washington, then come back and see me and I might consider changing your grade.”
Two years later, I’d written 21 letters to the White House, made 18 phone calls, now you can imagine when my mom got the phone bill. “What’s this number?” I said, “Well, mom that’s the White House.”
(Though he doesn’t mention it in this specific interview, he mentions in others that he gave his flag to congressman Walter H. Moeller, who then tirelessly promoted it in Washington and was instrumental in getting it accepted)
So anyhow, I got this call and they said “The President of the United States is going to call you later today.”
Well, at that time, Eisenhower was president, and he comes on the phone and he says, “Is this Robert G. Heft?”
And I said, “Yes sir, but you can just call me Bob.”And he says, “I want to know the possibility of you coming to Washington D.C. on July 4th for the official adoption of the new flag.”
And so, I have the grade book encased in plastic… My teacher said, “I guess if it’s good enough for Washington, it’s good enough for me. I hereby change your grade to an A.”
Shortly after he recorded his story he died on Dec 12, 2009. After his passing he gave his 51 star flag, which he also designed, to Rep. Clarence Miller of Ohio to submit should a new state be added to the union.
Get a FREE flag today till July 6th at OHSAY USA.