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Flags.  Long May They Wave.

By:  Joanne DuBarr

A Flag.  Made from what? Expressing what? Does it have meaning? A Flag. A piece of cloth. A piece of metal. A piece of plastic.  It is a symbol.  It is a signaling device.  It is a decoration.  A Flag.  It gives a message.  A solid color or an intricate multi-colored pattern: geometric, floral or shapes indescribable – all can and are found in flags.

Flexible material is generally used for flag production. Perhaps cotton, wool or some synthetic material is the basis for the flag but silk and linen are also possibilities as these fabrics can all hang with a wavy motion from some rigid staff.  Let us not discount, however, that a solid mass such as rock or metal or plastic or cardboard could also be a flag symbol.

Some message is given by a flag — patriotism, peace, surrender, loyalty, honor, to name a few. Don’t forget the message of the flag dropped by the referee in a football game or the flags carried by the High School “Flag” team during half-time or flags in parades or the flags decorating many households to connote a particular holiday.  Or the flags displayed in front of a business to advertise the merchant’s wares. All have a message and all have a meaning.

A Flag. Something to salute. Something to carry to the finish line.  Something to raise on a pole. Something to wave. Something to show and display for others to view signifying unity, power, identity, belonging, honor and loyalty, surrender, victory, holidays and death. A Flag. Something to be won in a competitive endeavor. Something to warn of a danger.  Something to show pride. A Flag. Each having their own meaning.

A Flag is a statement. It is a message of some kind from an individual or a group of people. Ships fly flags for identification. Personnel on ships use flags for signaling. Flags can unite demonstrators and help in the confirmation of their common cause. Flags can identify a Nation or a State.  Military flags can rally the troops together. Flags carried in parades are applauded. Flags used in a sport race can signify “start” or “finish”.  During the time of the American Revolution a rectangular flag was carried displaying a coiled (but rising) rattlesnake with the words “don’t tread on me”.

Colors in flag designing are limited only by the maker’s artistic mind. All hues are available, especially in our United States. Yet the colors seen throughout our world both in the basic part of the flag and within any incorporated design of the flag are the strong colors of: blue, red, yellow, green, white and black — with only a smattering of brown.

Geometric designs, with its simplicity, seem to be the most popular basic patterns used although the intricate designing of people, foliage and animals have been incorporated by the flag designer. The basic geometric patterns:  rectangles – also seen as stripes and borders, vertical and horizontal, wide and narrow, long and short; circles – halved and quartered; triangles – large and small) seem more easily identifiable at a distance and are the most commonly used shapes in some form.

It has been noted that very early in history some form and use of flags existed.

In early civilization perhaps only a carved emblem atop a pole with streamers attached below existed.  If symbols were used it would have been wild animals or some other natural subject.

Flags were found to be very useful as identifiers of rank, civil or military, signaling a ship’s direction or its place of registration, inspiring countrymen to great deeds.  In Europe during the 12th century Heraldry, the designing of coats of arms, developed to distinguish different families, institutions, and individuals.  Two to three contrasting colors were used for easy visibility and a single emblem might also have been set on the simple background. As this identity became more traditional, meanings of flags were recorded as a preventive measure to keep the individual flag personalized to one group or one person.

National flags have been a very important development in flag history. The symbolism of each national flag can be traced through each country’s history and its leaders. The countries national flags could represent the aspirations, language, territory or culture of the distinctive people within that country.

In our United States of America there exists a single flag representing the collective states. Within this country there are separate flags for each state. Some states have so much history attached to their state flag symbols that volumes of books could be required reading to get the complete impact of their flag’s statement.  Flags can also exist for counties, cities, various organizational groups, churches, businesses, military, to name a few.

The flag of The United States was officially adopted June 14, 1777. That Continental Congress resolved: 1) “The Flag” have 13 red and white stripes (to memorialize the 13 colonies which were represented in the Continental Congress): the red stripe at the top and bottom with alternating white stripes; 2) the canton area, the top part of the flag nearest the pole, is to have 13 white stars against a blue background, thus implying the birth of a new constellation.  Prior to 1777 the canton area had the British Union Jack symbol.

The interesting point to note about this “new” flag of 1777, is that when Kentucky and Virginia joined the Union in 1795, two additional stripes and two additional stars were added, making a total of 15 stripes and 15 stars.  It was at this time of The United States Flag design that “The Star Spangled Banner”, National Anthem of the United States, was written by Francis Scott Key.

The next design change came in 1818 when the decision was made to add only stars when a new state entered the Union and to reinstate 13 red and white stripes.

Prior to the 20th Century the United States Flag was made with variations as to placement of the stars, even as to the numbers of points on the star; variations in regard to ratio of width of each stripe versus the length of the stripe; variations as to the hue of the red and blue. The standardization of these listed design factors came only in the 20th century.

The 20th Century, especially 1942, also brought a “Flag Code” which the United States Congress adopted to set forth procedures to help the nation be uniform in its display and respect for The Flag. The original Code has been subsequently amended and modified: business and activities of the nation began to function 24 hours a day; costs of labor to raise and lower the flag became more expensive; materials used for the flag, itself, improved and production/manufacturing techniques changed allowing The Flag to withstand many harsh weather elements and moisture thereby allowing it to fly 24 hours.

Long may all of the flags wave.



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