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Celebrating a banner day

Wednesday marks the 68th annual celebration of Flag Day, which honors a June 14, 1777 resolution from the Second Continental Congress to adopt the stars and stripes as the nation’s official flag.

We asked Marty Blatt, director of Northeastern’s public history program, to share the history behind the day.

Q: What’s the history behind Flag Day?

Blatt: The Second Continental Congress adopted the U.S. flag on June 14, 1777. More than 120 years later, in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation for the occasion, requesting that “the fourteenth day of June be observed as Flag Day with special patriotic exercises” in communities nationwide. But it wasn’t until 1949 that President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.

When legislation is enacted to codify something like National Flag Day, it’s important to look at when it was created and who authored it, because that’s going to tell you a lot about why it was put in place. In this case, I think National Flag Day was created to promote U.S. politics and ideology in the context of the developing Cold War.

The Flag through the years

Use the slider on the timeline to see how the American flag has changed through history.
The stars will appear on each state on the year they were represented as a star on the flag.

Click timeline to see milestones of the design
1777
13 Stars
Select a state to see its first flag

Q: Some people refer to the American flag as “Old Glory.” Where does that nickname come from?

Blatt: “Old Glory,” a weather-beaten 10-by-17 foot flag, is now a significant artifact on prominent display at the Natural Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. But the story behind the name dates back to the Civil War, when a 19th-century sea captain named William Driver, who happened to hail from Salem, Massachusetts, flew the flag during his career at sea.

He wrote, “It has ever been my staunch companion and protection. Savages and heathens, lowly and oppressed, hailed and welcomed it at the far end of the wide world. Then, why should it not be called Old Glory?” Later, he defiantly flew the flag during the Civil War at his home in Nashville, Tennessee, where he eventually settled down, making national news in the process. His nickname for the stars and stripes stuck and the phrase has remained alive and well to this day.

How To Display The American Flag

The U.S. flag stands for our nation and the shared history, pride, principles, and commitment of its people. When we properly display this powerful symbol, we signal our respect for everything it represents.
The flag shouldn’t be flown in inclement weather unless it’s an all-weather flag.
Flags displayed at night should be properly illuminated.
In a time of national mourning, hang the flag at half-mast.
From your porch, place the union (blue section) at the peak of the staff.
Against a wall or on a window, place the union (blue section) at the top left corner.
On your vehicle, clamp the staff to the right front fender.
With another flag, place the U.S. flag to your left when crossed.
Keep your flag completely dry and folded properly — into a triangle, with the union (blue section) visible — before storing it in a well-ventilated area. If the flag is damaged or worn out, it should be disposed of with dignity.
The flag should not touch anything below it or rest on the ground.
Source: United States Code, Title 4, Chaper 1 – The Flag