The Stars and Stripes came into being on June 14, 1777, when the Second Continental Congress authorized a new flag to symbolize the new nation, the United States of America. The commemoration of this day as the birthday of the flag developed slowly.
The Stars and Stripes first flew in a Flag Day celebration in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1861, the first summer of the Civil War.
The first national observance of Flag Day came on June 14, 1877, the centennial of the original flag resolution. In the decades that followed, a number of individuals and organizations, quite possibly unaware of the efforts others were making, pressed to have Flag Day observed regularly.
One individual who waged a life-long crusade for a national Flag Day observance was Bernard J. Cigrand. As a 19-year-old teacher in the Stony Hill School near Waubeka, Wisconsin, he kept on his desk mounted in a bottle, a 38-star flag, 10 inches high. At the close of school in 1885, Cigrand observed a first Flag birthday with his pupils.Although Cigrand left his teaching post in 1886 for a career in dentistry, he persisted in furthering a national Flag Day holiday on June 14. He wrote, lectured, lobbied, and organized to advance the cause. In 1894 he helped found the American Flag Day Association in Chicago, which soon expanded nationally.
Similar grass-roots movements in support of Flag Day developed elsewhere. Numerous patriotic societies such as The Sons of the American Revolution took the lead. Many Civil War veterans groups in New England and the Midwest also became identified with the Flag Day movement.
A major objective of the advocates of Flag Day was to stimulate patriotism among the young. Entreated by patriotic societies, Superintendents of Schools were often the first public officials to direct that exercises be conducted. In large cities these exercises in the schools were viewed as a contribution to the Americanization of immigrant children.
By the mid-1890s, the observance of Flag Day on June 14 had caught on everywhere. Official recognition of the date as Flag Day, however, was slower to come. Gradually, mayors and governors began to issue proclamations establishing the holiday in their jurisdictions.
It was 1916 when President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation, calling for a nationwide observance of Flag Day on June 14. It was not until 1949, however, that Congress gave the holiday permanence by resolving “That the 14th day of June of each year is hereby designated as Flag Day....” President Harry Truman immediately signed the measure into law.
Today, Flag Day is not a legal holiday, except in Pennsylvania. Notwithstanding, the appeal to Americans of this day of reverence for Old Glory remains high. On June 14 the National Flag Day Committee again invites America to share in this happy celebration of history and heritage.
Reprinted with permission of the National Flag Day Foundation, Inc., 418 South Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21231 (410)563-FLAG