History of the American Flag: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Crystal Ladwig
''I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America...'' You probably say that every day in school, but how much do you really know about the flag? Read on to learn more about the flag you honor every time you say the pledge.

First Official Flag

The first official flag, the Stars and Stripes, was approved on June 14, 1777, when the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Act.  It looked very much like today's flag with 13 stripes that alternated between red and white, but it only had 13 white stars on a blue background. Why 13 stripes and 13 stars? Because that number represents the original 13 colonies.

This Flag Act did not provide for an official design for how the stars should be organized, only that the stars represented ''a new constellation.'' While there is no official meaning for the colors red, white, and blue, the Continental Congress suggested that white should represent innocence, red bravery and valor, and blue vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

Many people think that Betsy Ross sewed the first official flag, but we will never know for sure.
Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross

One of the most well-known early designs is called the Betsy Ross flag. Many of your parents may have learned that she sewed the first flag. Although it has been claimed by many that she designed it using a sketch given to her by New Jersey Congressman Francis Hopkinson, historians have never confirmed that. The Betsy Ross flag has the 13 stars arranged in a circle, while other earlier flag designs have had the stars in rows. 

''Star-Spangled Banner''

After the initial flag design in 1777, the flag remained mostly the same, with the exception for some variations on how the stars were arranged, until 1795 . In 1795, two more stars and stripes were added when Vermont and Kentucky became states. It was this flag that inspired the ''Star-Spangled Banner'' by Francis Scott Key in 1814. During a battle of the War of 1812 at Ft. McHenry, Key was inspired when he saw the United States flag still flying after an entire night of fighting with British troops.

The ''Star-Spangled Banner'' was initially written as a poem. Music was later added, and it became our national anthem in 1931. The actual flag that Key saw that day can be seen at the National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

The flag shown here is the actual one that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our National Anthem.
Star Spangled Banner

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