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11 fascinating facts—and one myth—about the American flag that you probably didn't know

Did you know this famous symbol of freedom came from a B- school project?

America, flag, facts, history
Photo by Robert Linder on Unsplash

There's a whole lot of story behind the American flag.

The Stars and Stripes, Old Glory, the Star-Spangled Banner — whatever you call it, the United States flag is one of the most recognizable symbols on Earth.

As famous as it is, there's still a lot you might not know about our shining symbol of freedom. For instance, did you know that on some flags, the stars used to point in different directions? Or that there used to be more than 13 stripes? How about a gut-check on all those star-spangled swimsuits you see popping up in stores around the Fourth of July?

We'll explore these topics and more in this fun list of 12 facts about the U.S. flag that you might not know about.


1. Betsy Ross, the woman often credited with sewing the first American flag, probably didn't — or at the very least, there's no proof that she did.

Legend has it that in 1776, a seamstress named Betsy Ross was approached in her shop by George Washington himself and was asked to help develop a flag for this soon-to-be-nation. Supposedly, she rejected the designs Washington presented to her and made a number of suggestions that would end up in the final version of the first American flag.

It's a great story that humanizes Washington as a man humble enough to take feedback and gives Ross a boost as being uncharacteristically assertive for a woman in 18th-century America.

But the bad news is that this probably never happened. It was nearly 100 years before anybody spoke of Betsy Ross or her role in designing the flag. Most of what we know of this story came from her grandson, William Canby.

Unfortunately, though historians have long tried to verify any of the facts involved in Canby's story, there's nothing to suggest that Washington set out to commission a flag in 1776. In fact, it wasn't until 1777 that Congress even passed a resolution ordering a flag to be made. Sure, it's possible that Camby's account of his grandmother's story happened, but it's more likely that this is simply an unverifiable piece of American lore.

2. It wasn't until 1912 that the government standardized the proportions of the flag and the arrangement of its stars.

While most countries's flags are rectangular, there are a few exceptions. In 1912, President Taft issued an executive order creating a uniform look for the flag — as prior to that, there were some interesting designs, with multiple flags sometimes in use simultaneously.

The executive order mandated that stars on the flag point upward, all in the same direction, and be placed in six horizontal rows of eight.

3. We all know the flag has 13 stripes, but for 23 years, it had 15.

Up until 1795, the flag had one stripe and one star for each of the 13 states. After Vermont and Kentucky were added to the union in 1791 and 1792, respectively, the flag was due for its first major redesign in the country's history. Not only were two stars added to the blue field to represent the new states (a tradition that continues to this day), but designers also added two stripes.

The 15-star, 15-stripe flag existed from 1795 until 1818, when five more states were added. Designers realized that adding more stripes would quickly become unwieldy, so they dropped the stripe count back to 13.

Kentucky, Vermont, American flag, Union, 1795

After Kentucky and Vermont joined the union 2 stripes and stars were added to the flag.

www.gettysburgflag.com

4. We still honor the 15-star, 15-stripe flag today, as it's the specific flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The outcast of all American flags lives on through the power of song. Key wrote "Defence of Fort M'Henry," a poem about his experience watching from the Baltimore harbor as an American fort took fire from British troops during the War of 1812. In 1916, more than 100 years after its first publication, Key's poem became our national anthem.

5. Yes, the Flag Code is the law. No, there's no penalty for breaking it.

The U.S. Flag Code was signed into law by President Roosevelt on June 22, 1942. While it's filed under Title 18 of the U.S. Code ("Crimes and Criminal Procedure"), the Flag Code exists as more of an etiquette guide than anything else.

So if you leave your flag up past sundown, that's technically illegal — but no one's going to arrest you for it.

6. When it comes to showing respect for the flag, there are 11 specific instructions to follow.

There's a whole section of the U.S. Flag Code on how to show respect for the flag. Since this is a topic that gets discussed quite a bit lately, it's worth a quick review of some of the highlights:

  • Unless you're trying to signal distress "in instances of extreme danger to life or property," you shouldn't display it with the union (the field of blue with white stars) facing downward.
  • The flag should never touch the floor and should never be carried horizontally or flat, but "always aloft and free."
  • You're not supposed to wear the flag nor print its image on "anything that is designed for temporary use" (napkins, for example). Don't use it in advertisements, either.
  • "No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform."

7. You're supposed to fly the flag on Christmas.

The Code says that "the flag should be displayed on all days," but puts special emphasis on the following holidays: New Year's Day, Inauguration Day, Lincoln's Birthday, Washington's Birthday, Easter, Mother's Day, Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day (the flag should be displayed at half-staff until noon), Flag Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Constitution Day, Columbus Day, Navy Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

The Code adds that states should display the U.S. flag on the anniversary of their admission to the union, on state holidays, and on any day observed by presidential proclamation.

8. If the U.S. ever adds a 51st state, the flag won't be updated until the following Independence Day.

The flag won't be getting any major redesigns in the near future, save for the addition of a star here and there. The Code reads:

"On the admission of a new State into the Union one star shall be added to the union of the flag; and such addition shall take effect on the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission."

9. Flag Day dates back to the 1880s but wasn't made an official U.S. holiday until 1949.

It's thought that schoolteacher Bernard J. Cigrand was the first person to celebrate Flag Day, commemorating the 108th anniversary of the 1777 Flag Resolution (which outlined the flag's basic design) on June 14, 1885. The tradition caught on among schools and, eventually, states.

In 1916, President Wilson established Flag Day through proclamation. In 1949, Congress passed and President Truman signed a bill making the holiday official.

10. The design for the current 50-star flag came from a high school student's U.S. history project — which initially got a B-.

In 1958, Bob Heft was a junior in high school. In a 2009 interview with StoryCorps, Heft recounted what happened when he turned in a history project featuring a 50-star flag. Heft's teacher gave him a B-, noting that he had the wrong number of stars on the flag (at the time, there were only 48 states).

When Heft expressed disappointment, his teacher said, "If you don't like the grade, get it accepted in Washington, then come back and see me."

After Alaska and Hawaii became states, the U.S. adopted Heft's flag. He got a call from President Eisenhower and, more importantly, an updated grade on his project.

11. The Pledge of Allegiance was, in part, created as a gimmick to sell U.S. flags to schools.

The pledge's history is fascinating and filled with controversy. Many know that it wasn't until 1954 that the words "under God" were added to the pledge in response to the Red Scare, but what's less discussed is the origin and purpose of the pledge itself.

Socialist minister Francis Bellamy penned the original pledge for an 1892 issue of The Youth's Companion as a way to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus' journey. The magazine offered U.S. flags to subscribers, and Bellamy and the magazine lobbied public schools to adopt his pledge as a show of patriotism. It was successful, too, selling tens of thousands of new subscriptions and flags. In hindsight, it's a bit ironic that this lasting ode to America began as a socialist's capitalist experiment.

12. No one is sure why we chose red, white, and blue as the color of our flag, but an explanation was made retroactively.

In 1782, Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson explained the significance of the colors red, white, and blue during the design of the official seal of the U.S.:

“The colours of the pales are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness and valour, and Blue, the colour of the Chief signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice."

Ever since, we've just gone with that.


This article originally appeared on 4.3.16

Pop Culture

Here’s a paycheck for a McDonald’s worker. And here's my jaw dropping to the floor.

So we've all heard the numbers, but what does that mean in reality? Here's one year's wages — yes, *full-time* wages. Woo.

Making a little over 10,000 for a yearly salary.


I've written tons of things about minimum wage, backed up by fact-checkers and economists and scholarly studies. All of them point to raising the minimum wage as a solution to lifting people out of poverty and getting folks off of public assistance. It's slowly happening, and there's much more to be done.

But when it comes right down to it, where the rubber meets the road is what it means for everyday workers who have to live with those wages. I honestly don't know how they do it.


Ask yourself: Could I live on this small of a full-time paycheck? I know what my answer is.

(And note that the minimum wage in many parts of the county is STILL $7.25, so it would be even less than this).

paychecks, McDonalds, corporate power, broken system

One year of work at McDonalds grossed this worker $13,811.18.

assets.rebelmouse.io

This story was written by Brandon Weber and was originally appeared on 02.26.15

Family

Mom’s blistering rant on how men are responsible for all unwanted pregnancies is on the nose

“ALL unwanted pregnancies are caused by the irresponsible ejaculations of men. Period. Don't believe me? Let me walk you through it."

Mom has something to say... strongly say.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons, are a conservative group who aren't known for being vocal about sex.

But best selling author, blogger, and mother of six, Gabrielle Blair, has kicked that stereotype to the curb with a pointed thread on reducing unwanted pregnancies. And her sights are set directly at men.


She wrote a Cliff's Notes version of her thread on her blog:

If you want to stop abortion, you need to prevent unwanted pregnancies. And men are 100% responsible for unwanted pregnancies. No for real, they are. Perhaps you are thinking: IT TAKES TWO! And yes, it does take two for _intentional_ pregnancies.

But ALL unwanted pregnancies are caused by the irresponsible ejaculations of men. Period. Don't believe me? Let me walk you through it. Let's start with this: women can only get pregnant about 2 days each month. And that's for a limited number of years.

Here's the whole thread. It's long, but totally worth the read.

Blair's controversial tweet storm have been liked hundreds of thousands of time, with the original tweet earning nearly 200,000 likes since it was posted on Thursday, September, 13.

The reactions have earned her both praise and scorn.

Most of the scorn was from men.

But Blair wouldn't budge.

For other men, the tweet thread was a real eye-opener.

Women everywhere applauded Blair's bold thread.

This article originally appeared on 02.22.19

Pop Culture

What is 'Generation Jones'? The unique qualities of the not-quite-Gen-X-baby-boomers.

This "microgeneration" had a different upbringing than their fellow boomers.

Generation Jones includes Michelle Obama, George Clooney, Kamala Harris, Keanu Reeves and more.

We hear a lot about the major generation categories—boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Z and the up-and-coming Gen Alpha. But there are folks who don't quite fit into those boxes. These in-betweeners, sometimes called "cuspers," are members of microgenerations that straddle two of the biggies.

"Xennial" is the nickname for those who fall on the cusp of Gen X and millennial, but there's also a lesser-known microgeneration that straddles Gen X and baby boomers. The folks born from 1954 to 1965 are known as Generation Jones, and they've been thrust into the spotlight as people try to figure out what generation to consider 59-year-old Vice President Kamala Harris.

Like President Obama before her, Harris is a Gen Jonesernot exactly a classic baby boomer but not quite Gen X. Born in October 1964, Harris falls just a few months shy of official Gen X territory. But what exactly differentiates Gen Jones from the boomers and Gen Xers that flank it?


"Generation Jones" was coined by writer, television producer and social commentator Jonathan Pontell to describe the decade of Americans who grew up in the '60s and '70s. As Pontell wrote of Gen Jonesers in Politico:

"We fill the space between Woodstock and Lollapalooza, between the Paris student riots and the anti-globalisation protests, and between Dylan going electric and Nirvana going unplugged. Jonesers have a unique identity separate from Boomers and GenXers. An avalanche of attitudinal and behavioural data corroborates this distinction."

Pontell describes Jonesers as "practical idealists" who were "forged in the fires of social upheaval while too young to play a part." They are the younger siblings of the boomer civil rights and anti-war activists who grew up witnessing and being moved by the passion of those movements but were met with a fatigued culture by the time they themselves came of age. Sometimes, they're described as the cool older siblings of Gen X. Unlike their older boomer counterparts, most Jonesers were not raised by WWII veteran fathers and were too young to be drafted into Vietnam, leaving them in between on military experience.

Gen Jones gets its name from the competitive "keeping up with the Joneses" spirit that spawned during their populous birth years, but also from the term "jonesin'," meaning an intense craving, that they coined—a drug reference but also a reflection of the yearning to make a difference that their "unrequited idealism" left them with. According to Pontell, their competitiveness and identity as a "generation aching to act" may make Jonesers particularly effective leaders:

"What makes us Jonesers also makes us uniquely positioned to bring about a new era in international affairs. Our practical idealism was created by witnessing the often unrealistic idealism of the 1960s. And we weren’t engaged in that era’s ideological battles; we were children playing with toys while boomers argued over issues. Our non-ideological pragmatism allows us to resolve intra-boomer skirmishes and to bridge that volatile Boomer-GenXer divide. We can lead."

Time will tell whether the United States will end up with another Generation Jones leader, but with President Biden withdrawing his candidacy, it has now become a distinct possibility.

Of note in discussions over Kamala Harris's generational status is the fact that generations aren't just calculated by birth year but by a person's cultural reality. Some have made the argument that Harris is culturally more Gen X than boomer, though there doesn't seem to be any record of her claiming any particular generation as her own. However, a swath of Gen Z has staked their own claim on her as "brat"—a term singer Charli XCX thrust into the political arena with a post on X that read "kamala IS brat." That may be nonsensical to most older folks, but for Gen Z, it's a glowing endorsement from one of the top Gen Z musicians of the moment.

Identity

When a man asks people to translate a hate message he's received, their response is unforgettable

Reading the words would be one thing. Having to think about what they mean is almost too intense.


As part of an experiment, a man asks for help translating a Facebook message he has received.

There's a man in Lithuania who speaks only English. The message is in Lithuanian. He can't read it, so he asks some locals to translate it for him.


As he asks one person after another to translate the message for him, two things become obvious.

1. He's received a message full of hate speech.

2. Translating it for him is breaking people's hearts.

It's nearly more than these people can bear.

There's a sudden, powerful connection between the translators and the man they're translating for. They want to protect him, telling him not to bother with the message.

They apologize for the message.

They look like they want to cry.

Words hurt.

Most of us would never think of saying such horrible things. This video shows people realizing in their gut what it must feel like when those words are pointed at them — it's all right on their faces. And so is their compassion.

The Facebook message is horrible, but their empathy is beautiful. The video's emotional power is what makes it unique, and so worth watching and passing around.

Here it is.

The video's in English, subtitled in Lithuanian. Just watch the faces.

This article originally appeared on 04.10.15

Science

Researchers dumped tons of coffee waste into a forest. This is what it looks like now.

30 dump truck loads and two years later, the forest looks totally different.

One of the biggest problems with coffee production is that it generates an incredible amount of waste. Once coffee beans are separated from cherries, about 45% of the entire biomass is discarded.

So for every pound of roasted coffee we enjoy, an equivalent amount of coffee pulp is discarded into massive landfills across the globe. That means that approximately 10 million tons of coffee pulp is discarded into the environment every year.



When disposed of improperly, the waste can cause serious damage soil and water sources.

However, a new study published in the British Ecological Society journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence has found that coffee pulp isn't just a nuisance to be discarded. It can have an incredibly positive impact on regrowing deforested areas of the planet.

via British Ecological Society

In 2018, researchers from ETH-Zurich and the University of Hawaii spread 30 dump trucks worth of coffee pulp over a roughly 100' x 130' area of degraded land in Costa Rica. The experiment took place on a former coffee farm that underwent rapid deforestation in the 1950s.

The coffee pulp was spread three-feet thick over the entire area.

Another plot of land near the coffee pulp dump was left alone to act as a control for the experiment.

"The results were dramatic." Dr. Rebecca Cole, lead author of the study, said. "The area treated with a thick layer of coffee pulp turned into a small forest in only two years while the control plot remained dominated by non-native pasture grasses."

In just two years, the area treated with coffee pulp had an 80% canopy cover, compared to just 20% of the control area. So, the coffee-pulp-treated area grew four times more rapidly. Like a jolt of caffeine, it reinvigorated biological activity in the area.

The canopy was also four times taller than that of the control.

Before and after images of the forest

The forest experienced a radical, positive change

via British Ecological Society

The coffee-treated area also eliminated an invasive species of grass that took over the land and prevented forest succession. Its elimination allowed for other native species to take over and recolonize the area.

"This case study suggests that agricultural by-products can be used to speed up forest recovery on degraded tropical lands. In situations where processing these by-products incurs a cost to agricultural industries, using them for restoration to meet global reforestation objectives can represent a 'win-win' scenario," Dr. Cole said.

If the results are repeatable it's a win-win for coffee drinkers and the environment.

Researchers believe that coffee treatments can be a cost-effective way to reforest degraded land. They may also work to reverse the effects of climate change by supporting the growth of forests across the globe.

The 2016 Paris Agreement made reforestation an important part of the fight against climate change. The agreement incentivizes developing countries to reduce deforestation and forest degradation, promote forest conservation and sustainable management, and enhance forest carbon stocks in developing countries.

"We hope our study is a jumping off point for other researchers and industries to take a look at how they might make their production more efficient by creating links to the global restoration movement," Dr. Cole said.


This article originally appeared on 03.29.21