20 Reasons the American Flag Is Even Cooler Than You Thought
Who really designed it, why so many Boy Scouts burn it, the epic reason soldiers wear it backward, and more.
The 50-star flag was designed by a high-school kid
In 1958, 17-year-old Robert G. Heft was living with his grandparents in Ohio when he was given a school project to design a 50-star flag reflecting the addition of Alaska and Hawaii to the nation. Heft got a B- on his project… later upgraded to an A after President Eisenhower picked Heft’s flag design as the new banner of the nation.
Our moon flags have all turned white
It’s hard to plan a vacation on the moon; with alternating 14-day spans of scorching 100°C heat followed by 14 days of pitch-black -150°C cold, there’s just no high season. Suppose now you are a $5.50 nylon American flag faced with this cruel climate (plus a constant bath of intense UV radiation) every day for 40-some years—what do you think you’ll look like? Bleach-white, according to lunar scientists who say the six U.S. flags planted on the Moon during the Apollo program would be unrecognizably faded today. We surrender!
Betsy Ross may have nothing to do with the design
Philadelphia-born upholsterer Betsy Ross is given credit for sewing and designing the very first American flag, but there is no evidence that she had anything to do with it. Strangely, the first account of Ross’s flag-sewing legacy didn’t air until 1870, nearly a century after the flag debuted and long after Ross herself had died. The first person to tell the tale? Ross’s grandson. It is still not known whether her legend is true. Here are 9 famous moments in history that actually never happened.
The world’s most prolific flag burners are children
Hit the snooze button on your outrage. According to the Unites States Flag Code, burning a flag is actually the preferred and most dignified method of retiring an old or damaged flag. The Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion conduct regular flag retirement ceremonies, but the world’s number one flag-burners? Probably the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, whose more than 4 million members conduct frequent Flag Retirement Ceremonies that are considered paragons of honor. For everyone else, here are 10 flag etiquette mistakes you might be making.
You’ve probably broken the flag code
If you’ve ever worn a piece of clothing with the American Flag on it, Uncle Sam wants a word with you. According to the official United States Flag Code, the stars and stripes should never be used for advertising purposes and should not be worn on apparel except by military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations. Quick! Somebody warn Old Navy!
Our flag makes the Olympics awkward
Also in the Flag Code: a rule saying that our Stars and Stripes should never be dipped to any other person or thing. The next time you watch Olympic Games footage, you’ll see America is usually the only nation not to dip their flag when marching past heads of state. This move made things pretty awkward in 1908, when the Games were held in London and it was public protocol that each nation lower their flag and give three cheers when passing His Majesty, King Edward VII. American flag bearer Ralph Rose was the only athlete to refuse, keeping the flag erect as he passed. Here are more fascinating facts about America you never knew.
Military uniforms wear the flag backward (for an awesome reason)
If you’ve ever seen a Marine wearing a backward flag patch on his fatigues, it’s not because he put on his uniform inside-out. According to The Institute of Heraldry, flag patches on military uniforms should be worn with the star field always facing front to mimic a flag blowing in the wind as soldiers charge into battle. Awesome.
Military flag patches may also save lives
While deployed, many soldiers wear a subdued blue-gray version of the flag patch that is made of infrared light-emitting material. When viewed through night vision goggles, the flags glow in the dark—helping soldiers to identify friendly forces in the field. Awesome again.
Half-mast flags have a dark secret
The tradition of flying flags at half-staff to show mourning and respect dates back at least to 1612, when the crew of a British vessel sailed home with the Union Jack at half-mast in honor of their dead captain. It has since become British tradition to fly a flag of mourning not halfway down the pole, but exactly one flag’s-width below its normal position. Why? To make room for another flag at the top of the staff: the invisible flag of death.
‘Gilligan’s Island’ hides a legendary half-mast flag
In the opening sequence of the first season of Gilligan’s Island, you’ll notice a flag flying at half-staff as The Minnow leaves the harbor, about 22 seconds in. Why? Because these shots from the pilot episode were filmed on November 22, 1963—the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.