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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.

Pop Culture

Airbnb host finds unexpected benefits from not charging guests a cleaning fee

Host Rachel Boice went for a more "honest" approach with her listings—and saw major perks because of it.

@rachelrboice/TikTok

Many frustrated Airbnb customers have complained that the separate cleaning fee is a nuisance.

Airbnb defines its notorious cleaning fee as a “one-time charge” set by the host that helps them arrange anything from carpet shampoo to replenishing supplies to hiring an outside cleaning service—all in the name of ensuring guests have a “clean and tidy space.”

But as many frustrated Airbnb customers will tell you, this feature is viewed as more of a nuisance than a convenience. According to NerdWallet, the general price for a cleaning fee is around $75, but can vary greatly between listings, with some units having cleaning fees that are higher than the nightly rate (all while sometimes still being asked to do certain chores before checking out). And often none of these fees show up in the total price until right before the booking confirmation, leaving many travelers feeling confused and taken advantage of.

However, some hosts are opting to build cleaning fees into the overall price of their listings, mimicking the strategy of traditional hotels.

Rachel Boice runs two Airbnb properties in Georgia with her husband Parker—one being this fancy glass plane tiny house (seen below) that promises a perfect glamping experience.

@rachelrboice Welcome to The Tiny Glass House 🤎 #airbnbfinds #exploregeorgia #travelbucketlist #tinyhouse #glampingnotcamping #atlantageorgia #fyp ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Like most Airbnb hosts, the Boice’s listing showed a nightly rate and separate cleaning fee. According to her interview with Insider, the original prices broke down to $89 nightly, and $40 for the cleaning fee.

But after noticing the negative response the separate fee got from potential customers, Rachel told Insider that she began charging a nightly rate that included the cleaning fee, totaling to $129 a night.

It’s a marketing strategy that more and more hosts are attempting in order to generate more bookings (people do love feeling like they’re getting a great deal) but Boice argued that the trend will also become more mainstream since the current Airbnb model “doesn’t feel honest.”

"We stay in Airbnbs a lot. I pretty much always pay a cleaning fee," Boice told Insider. "You're like: 'Why am I paying all of this money? This should just be built in for the cost.'"

Since combining costs, Rachel began noticing another unexpected perk beyond customer satisfaction: guests actually left her property cleaner than before they were charged a cleaning fee. Her hypothesis was that they assumed she would be handling the cleaning herself.

"I guess they're thinking, 'I'm not paying someone to clean this, so I'll leave it clean,'" she said.

This discovery echoes a similar anecdote given by another Airbnb host, who told NerdWallet guests who knew they were paying a cleaning fee would “sometimes leave the place looking like it’s been lived in and uncleaned for months.” So, it appears to be that being more transparent and lumping all fees into one overall price makes for a happier (and more considerate) customer.

These days, it’s hard to not be embittered by deceptive junk fees, which can seem to appear anywhere without warning—surprise overdraft charges, surcharges on credit cards, the never convenience “convenience charge” when purchasing event tickets. Junk fees are so rampant that certain measures are being taken to try to eliminate them outright in favor of more honest business approaches.

Speaking of a more honest approach—as of December 2022, AirBnb began updating its app and website so that guests can see a full price breakdown that shows a nightly rate, a cleaning fee, Airbnb service fee, discounts, and taxes before confirming their booking.

Guests can also activate a toggle function before searching for a destination, so that full prices will appear in search results—avoiding unwanted financial surprises.


This article originally appeared on 11.08.23

Science

MIT’s trillion-frames-per-second camera can capture light as it travels

"There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

Photo from YouTube video.

Photographing the path of light.

A new camera developed at MIT can photograph a trillion frames per second.

Compare that with a traditional movie camera which takes a mere 24. This new advancement in photographic technology has given scientists the ability to photograph the movement of the fastest thing in the Universe, light.


The actual event occurred in a nano second, but the camera has the ability to slow it down to twenty seconds.

time, science, frames per second, bounced light

The amazing camera.

Photo from YouTube video.

For some perspective, according to New York Times writer, John Markoff, "If a bullet were tracked in the same fashion moving through the same fluid, the resulting movie would last three years."


In the video below, you'll see experimental footage of light photons traveling 600-million-miles-per-hour through water.

It's impossible to directly record light so the camera takes millions of scans to recreate each image. The process has been called femto-photography and according to Andrea Velten, a researcher involved with the project, "There's nothing in the universe that looks fast to this camera."

(H/T Curiosity)


This article originally appeared on 09.08.17

Pop Culture

A brave fan asks Patrick Stewart a question he doesn't usually get and is given a beautiful answer

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through.

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through. However, how he answered this vulnerable and brave fan's question is one of the most eloquent, passionate responses about domestic violence I've ever seen.



WARNING: At 2:40, he's going to break your heart a little.

You can read more about Heather Skye's hug with Captain Picard at her blog.


This article originally appeared on 06.26.13.


A map of the United States post land-ice melt.


Land ice: We got a lot of it.

Considering the two largest ice sheets on earth — the one on Antarctica and the one on Greenland — extend more than 6 million square miles combined ... yeah, we're talkin' a lot of ice.

But what if it was all just ... gone? Not like gone gone, but melted?


If all of earth's land ice melted, it would be nothing short of disastrous.

And that's putting it lightly.

This video by Business Insider Science (seen below) depicts exactly what our coastlines would look like if all the land ice melted. And spoiler alert: It isn't great.

Lots of European cities like, Brussels and Venice, would be basically underwater.

In Africa and the Middle East? Dakar, Accra, Jeddah — gone.

Millions of people in Asia, in cities like Mumbai, Beijing, and Tokyo, would be uprooted and have to move inland.

South America would say goodbye to cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

And in the U.S., we'd watch places like Houston, San Francisco, and New York City — not to mention the entire state of Florida — slowly disappear into the sea.

All GIFs via Business Insider Science/YouTube.

Business Insider based these visuals off National Geographic's estimation that sea levels will rise 216 feet (!) if all of earth's land ice melted into our oceans.

There's even a tool where you can take a detailed look at how your community could be affected by rising seas, for better or worse.

Although ... looking at these maps, it's hard to imagine "for better" is a likely outcome for many of us.

Much of America's most populated regions would be severely affected by rising sea levels, as you'll notice exploring the map, created by Alex Tingle using data provided by NASA.

Take, for instance, the West Coast. (Goodbye, San Fran!)

Or the East Coast. (See ya, Philly!)

And the Gulf Coast. (RIP, Bourbon Street!)

I bring up the topic not just for funsies, of course, but because the maps above are real possibilities.

How? Climate change.

As we continue to burn fossil fuels for energy and emit carbon into our atmosphere, the planet gets warmer and warmer. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means melted ice.

A study published this past September by researchers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany found that if we don't change our ways, there's definitely enough fossil fuel resources available for us to completely melt the Antarctic ice sheet.

Basically, the self-inflicted disaster you see above is certainly within the realm of possibility.

"This would not happen overnight, but the mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come," said lead author of the study Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

If we want to stop this from happening," she says, "we need to keep coal, gas, and oil in the ground."

The good news? Most of our coastlines are still intact! And they can stay that way, too — if we act now.

World leaders are finallystarting to treat climate change like the global crisis that it is — and you can help get the point across to them, too.

Check out Business Insider's video below:

This article originally appeared on 12.08.15

Having lived in small towns and large cities in the Pacific Northwest, Southwest, and Midwest, and after spending a year traveling around the U.S. with my family, I've seen first-hand that Americans have much more in common than not. I've also gotten to experience some of the cultural differences, subtle and not-so-subtle, real and not-so-real, that exist in various parts of the country.

Some of those differences are being discussed in a viral thread on Twitter. Self-described "West coaster" Jordan Green kicked it off with an observation about East coasters being kind and West coasters being nice, which then prompted people to share their own social experiences in various regions around the country.

Green wrote:

"When I describe East Coast vs West Coast culture to my friends I often say 'The East Coast is kind but not nice, the West Coast is nice but not kind,' and East Coasters immediately get it. West Coasters get mad.

Niceness is saying 'I'm so sorry you're cold,' while kindness may be 'Ugh, you've said that five times, here's a sweater!' Kindness is addressing the need, regardless of tone.

I'm a West Coaster through and through—born and raised in San Francisco, moved to Portland for college, and now live in Seattle. We're nice, but we're not kind. We'll listen to your rant politely, smile, and then never speak to you again. We hit mute in real life. ALOT.


So often, we West Coasters think that showing *sympathy* or feeling *empathy* is an act of kindness. Sadly, it's really just a nice act. Kindness is making sure the baby has a hat. (s/o to breenewsome and BlackAmazon)

When you translate this to institutions or policy, you'll see alot of nice words being used, & West Coast liberals/radicals are really good at *sounding* nice. But I've seen organizers & activists from other places get frustrated because nothing happens after ALOT of talk.

Nothing happens after the pronoun check-ins and the icebreakers. It's rare we make sure that people's immediate needs are addressed. There's no kindness. You have people show up to meetings hungry, or needing rides home, and watching those with means freeze when asked to help.

As we begin to 'get back a sense of normalcy' or 're-calibrate' to what people in Blue States™ think is Right™ and Just™, I want us to keep in mind the difference between Niceness and Kindness. If something sounds nice, doesn't mean that it's kind."

Of course, there are genuinely kind and surface nice people everywhere you go, so no one should take these observations as a personal affront to them individually. Generalizations that lead to stereotypes are inherently problematic, and broad strokes like "East coast" and "West coast" are also somewhat meaningless, so they should taken with a grain of salt as well.

In reality, a small town in South Carolina is probably more culturally similar to a small town in Eastern Oregon than it is to New York City, and there are some strong differences between various subregions as well. A more specific cultural comparison, such as "big cities on the West coast vs. big cities in the Northeast" might be more accurate as far as generalizations go, but regardless, many people related to Green's observations based on their own experiences.

To kick things off, a slew of responses poured in from people describing how New Yorkers can be cold on the surface while simultaneously reaching out their hand to help you.

Several people explained that the hustle required to afford the expense of living in New York explains why people skip the niceties. It's about valuing people's time; wasting it with nice words is ruder than just quickly helping out and then moving on.

Many people chimed in with agreement with the original post (even some Canadians confirming that their East/West differences aligned with ours).

"No sense of urgency" is definitely a West coast vibe, but is generally viewed a positive out here. And "inconveniencing everyone around them" might be a subjective observation. Maybe.

Plenty of people with bicoastal experience weighed in with their stories of how their experiences lined up with the basic premise of the thread, though.

Though certainly not universally true, the tendency for West coasters to be more hands-off might extend back to the frontier days. The pioneer and gold rush mindset was necessarily individualistic and self-sufficient. In my experience, West coasters assume you don't need help unless you directly ask for it. But people don't ask because of the individualistic and self-sufficient thing, so automatic helpfulness just hasn't become part of the dominant culture.

Things got even more interesting once the South and Midwest entered the chat.

But the takes on warm/nice/kind thing varied quite a bit.

One thing that seems quite clear if you read through the various responses to the thread is that specific states and cities seem to have their own cultures that don't break down as simply as East/West/Midwest/South. There's an entire book about how the U.S. can actually be subdivided into 11 different regions that are almost like nations unto themselves. Even this map from 1940 included 34 different cultural regions in the U.S.

And don't even get a Californian started on the differences between Northern CA, Southern CA, and the Central Valley. "Culture" can even be narrowed down even to specific neighborhoods, and people's experiences and perceptions vary for all kinds of reasons, so once again, generalizations only go so far before they fall flat.

If you're curious about what the data says about all of this, a cursory search of surveys about which states are the kindest brings up a fairly mixed bag, but people seem to find Minnesota quite friendly. A Wallethub ranking of charitability by state based on 19 factors including volunteerism also placed Minnesota at number one, followed by Utah, Maryland, Oregon, and Ohio. Pretty hard to make a regional generalization with those states.

Then again, there's the whole "Minnesota nice" thing, which brings us full circle back to the original thread.

So many elements go into the culture of a place, from population density to the history of settlement to the individual personalities of the people who make someplace their home. And nothing is set in stone—the atmosphere of a place can change over time, as anyone who's visited a city a decade or two apart can attest.

One thing that's true, no matter where we live, is that we play a role in molding the culture of our immediate surroundings. If we want where we live to be friendlier, we can be friendlier ourselves. If we want to see people help one another, we can serve as that example. We might stand out, but we also might inspire others who yearn for the same thing.

"Be the change" might seem a bit cliche, but it truly is the key to shifting or world in the way we want it to go, no matter what part of the country—or the world—we live in.


This article originally appeared on 01.22.21