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.


[rebelmouse-image 19346999 dam="1" original_size="750x322" caption="Photo by Ludovic Gauthier/Unsplash." expand=1]Photo by Ludovic Gauthier/Unsplash.

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.

George Washington and members of Congress consulting with Betsy Ross. Image by the Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

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.

A 15-star, 15-stripes flag flies above a battle monument in Baltimore. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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.

A  first edition of the 'Star-Spangled Banner' sheet music. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images.

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.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

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."

In other words, ditch the patriotic leggings. Photo by Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.

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."

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello holds up the results from a 2017 election in favor of U.S. statehood. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

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.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

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.

The Great Seal of the United States as shown on the carpet of the Oval Office. Photo by Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

TikTok about '80s childhood is a total Gen X flashback.

As a Gen X parent, it's weird to try to describe my childhood to my kids. We're the generation that didn't grow up with the internet or cell phones, yet are raising kids who have never known a world without them. That difference alone is enough to make our 1980s childhoods feel like a completely different planet, but there are other differences too that often get overlooked.

How do you explain the transition from the brown and orange aesthetic of the '70s to the dusty rose and forest green carpeting of the '80s if you didn't experience it? When I tell my kids there were smoking sections in restaurants and airplanes and ashtrays everywhere, they look horrified (and rightfully so—what were we thinking?!). The fact that we went places with our friends with no quick way to get ahold of our parents? Unbelievable.

One day I described the process of listening to the radio, waiting for my favorite song to come on so I could record it on my tape recorder, and how mad I would get when the deejay talked through the intro of the song until the lyrics started. My Spotify-spoiled kids didn't even understand half of the words I said.

And '80s hair? With the feathered bangs and the terrible perms and the crunchy hair spray? What, why and how?

Keep Reading Show less
Pets

Ginger the dog reunited with family 5 years after being stolen

Ginger's family never gave up hope, and it payed off.

Ginger the dog was missing for five years before being reunited with her family.

A sweet pup is finally home with her family where she belongs after way too many years away.

Ginger the dog was stolen from her family back in 2017. Her owner, Barney Lattimore of Janesville, Wisconsin, never gave up the hope that his sweet girl was out there somewhere. Whenever he'd see a dog listed on a rescue website or humane society website that even remotely resembled his Ginger, he would inquire about the dog. Unfortunately, it was never her. You'd think that after a while he would stop, but if he had, he likely wouldn't have gotten the sweetest reunion.

Keep Reading Show less

Prior to baby formula, breastfeeding was the norm, but that doesn't mean it always worked.

As if the past handful of years weren't challenging enough, the U.S. is currently dealing with a baby formula crisis.

Due to a perfect storm of supply chain issues, product recalls, labor shortages and inflation, manufacturers are struggling to keep up with formula demand and retailers are rationing supplies. As a result, families that rely on formula are scrambling to ensure that their babies get the food they need.

Naturally, people are weighing in on the crisis, with some throwing out simplistic advice like, "Why don't you just do what people did before baby formula was invented and just breastfeed?"

That might seem logical, unless you understand how breastfeeding works and know a bit about infant mortality throughout human history.

Keep Reading Show less