The Meaning Behind All 50 State Flags
Stars and stripes are obvious, pelicans, the Big Dipper, and trees less so. Find out the history behind every flag of the United States.
Since 1895, the Alabama state flag has been a crimson St. Andrew’s cross on a rectangular field of white. The design was likely intended to “preserve in permanent form some of the more distinctive features of the Confederate battle flag,” shares the Alabama Department of Archives and History. Fun fact: Alabama is one of only four states that doesn’t include the color blue. The others are California, Maryland, and New Mexico. Alabama does have something in common with every state—dumb laws.
Alaska was not yet a state in 1926 when, in the interest of gaining statehood, the Alaskan American Legion in cooperation with the territorial governor held a flag-designing contest for kids. The unanimous winner was the flag designed by John “Benny” Benson, 13, who lived in an orphanage in Unalaska. His design was eight stars (the Big Dipper constellation and the North Star) on a field of blue to represent the sky and Alaska’s forget-me-not flower. He included the eighth star, because, in his own words, “The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union.”
The Arizona state flag, adopted in 1917, is divided into two halves. The top consists of 13 alternating red and yellow rays that represent the original 13 colonies, according to the Arizona Secretary of State. The colors of the rays pay tribute to the Spanish flags carried by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado when he explored Arizona in 1540. The bottom half is solid blue, the same blue as that in the U.S. flag. The large copper-hued star in the center represents Arizona’s status as the largest copper producer in the United States.
The Arkansas state flag may look simple, but it is rich in symbolism, according to the Arkansas Secretary of State. The colors (red, white, and blue) signify Arkansas’s place as a state in the Union. The diamond shape is a shout-out to the United State’s only diamond mine, located in Arkansas, and the 25 stars that border the diamond reflect that Arkansas was the 25th state admitted to the Union. The three stars below the word “Arkansas” have a double meaning: Arkansas has been part of three countries (Spain, France, and the United States) and it was the third state to come out of the Louisiana Purchase. The star on top of the word “Arkansas” was added in 1923 to represent the Confederacy.
The flag of California was officially adopted in 1911 but had first been hoisted in 1846 as an act of rebellion against Mexico, which still ruled California at the time. The grizzly bear, at one point ubiquitous to California, but now extinct in the state, was intended to intimidate Mexican authorities. The red star is said to imitate the “lone star of Texas.” Some in California would like to see a new flag adopted, one that is more current and less associated with a long-ago rebellion by what an editorial in the Los Angeles Times calls a band of “thieves, drunks, and murderers.”
The blue in Colorado’s state flag, adopted in 1911, represents the state’ open blue skies and the white stripe is for the snowcapped Rockies, reports the Denver Channel. The letter “C” is the same red as the American flag and represents the state’s red-hued earth. The golden disk inside the “C” celebrates the state’s many days of sunshine. Colorado neighbors many other states which is one of the 24 U.S. state facts that nearly everyone gets wrong.
The Connecticut state flag was adopted in 1895, although it had already been long accepted as the official state flag of the Nutmeg State. Its design consists of three grapevines that represent the three colonies—New Haven, Saybrook, and Connecticut (Hartford)—that merged together to become the state. Grape vines have been associated with the state since 1639 when they were part of the official seal brought from England by Colonel George Fenwick, who oversaw Saybrook. The Latin, “Qui Transtulit Sustinet,” also from Fenwick’s seal translates to, “He Who Transplanted Still Sustains.” The state name, however, is actually thanks to a Native American word. In fact, the Native Americans influenced many state names. This is how every state in America got its name.
The colors on Delaware’s state flag, buff and colonial blue, represent those of a uniform worn by General George Washington, explains the State of Delaware’s official website. The date that appears below the diamond (December 7, 1787) is the day on which Delaware ratified the federal Constitution. It was the first state to do so and therefore the first state admitted to the union, which gives Delaware the bragging rights and nickname of “First State.”
Florida was the first southern state to adopt a flag after the Civil War, but it went through several iterations before taking on its current form in 1900, shares the Florida Department of State. Its state seal appears in the center of a crimson St. Andrew’s cross (like that seen on the Confederate flag) and is the only portion of the flag that contains the color blue—look closely, it’s on a skirt worn by the Native American woman who is pictured scattering flowers. One of the oldest cemeteries in America, located in Florida, has the earliest known burials of Tolomato tribe members.
Georgia has had three state flags since 2001 alone, reflecting controversy over whether and to what degree the state flag should reference the Confederate flag. The current flag, which was selected by statewide vote in 2004, is still based on the Confederate flag’s red, white, and blue “stars and bars” but no longer bears a St. Andrew’s-style cross (in the style of the Confederate flag) as it once had.