With summer approaching, there will be plenty of opportunities to fly the Stars and Stripes.
Think you know just about everything pertaining Old Glory? Maybe not.
Here are some interesting, little-known facts about the U.S. flag:
1. Betsy Probably Didn’t Design It
There’s almost no evidence that Betsy Ross designed the first U.S. flag.
In 1776, Ross was employed as a seamstress, sewing flags for the Pennsylvania navy. At that time, according to legend and family tradition, Ross convinced George Washington to change the design of the U.S. flag to include five-pointed stars instead of six-pointed ones. She demonstrated to him that a five-pointed star would be much easier and faster to cut.
However, there is no archival evidence or other recorded verbal tradition to substantiate this story. Apparently, the tale first surfaced in the writings of Ross’ grandson in the 1870s—a hundred years after the fact.
But according to historian Marc Leepson, just because there’s no good historical evidence that Ross sewed the first flag, that doesn’t mean she didn’t. “There’s simply a lack of documentation.”
By the same token, the Betsy Ross House, a Philadelphia museum honoring the reputed flagmaker, promotes her story.
Nevertheless, they still encourage visitors to decide whether it’s “historical fact or well-loved fiction.”
2. Five Moon Flags Still Standing
Each of the six manned Apollo missions that landed on the moon planted a U.S. flag on the lunar surface.
Until recently, most scientists had assumed the nylon flags (which cost NASA $5.50 each) had not survived more the moon’s harsh conditions for almost five decades.
But photos taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) confirmed that five of the six flags are still standing. All except the one planted by the Apollo 11 crew. According to LROC investigator Mark Robinson, “Astronaut Buzz Aldrin reported that the flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during liftoff of Apollo 11, and it looks like he was correct!”
While the flags themselves may have survived, their iconic colors have not. Because the moon has no atmosphere and no shade, the flags planted by the Apollo astronauts continue to be exposed to intense, constant ultraviolet radiation.
The result is that they’ve all been bleached white.
3. World’s Largest U.S. Flag
The world’s largest American flag measures 255’ by 505’ and weighs 3,000 lbs.
Thomas “Ski” Demski loved the U.S. flag. “It means freedom to me,” Demski said, “and there’s no sweeter word.”
A lot of Americans may feel that way, but few of would commission the creation of the world’s largest U.S. flag to prove it. But that’s exactly what Demski did.
Dubbed the “Superflag,” it was constructed of cloth and sewn together in Pennsylvania before being delivered to Demski on June 14, 1992 — Flag Day. The one-and-a-half-ton flag took 500 people to unfurl, and filled a portion of the mall in front of the Washington Monument.
In 1996, the flag was hung on cables across Hoover Dam to mark the Olympic torch relay. Unfortunately, winds ripped it in three places during that outing. The repairs, made by a Huntington Beach sail and boat cover company, cost Demski $5,000.
Demski passed away in 2002, but Superflag continues to be displayed across the country as directed by the Thomas L. Demski Trust. (Demski himself was cremated and his ashes placed inside the 7-foot eagle atop the 132-foot flagpole outside his California home.)
In case you’re interested, the Superflag is available to rent. It travels in its own motor home — but you’ll need about 600 helpers if you intend to display it.
4. 250,000 U.S. Flags Sold in a Single Day
Hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Americans started buying flags.
On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, Walmart sold 116,000 flags. On Wednesday, that number jumped to 250,000. (A year earlier, they had sold 6,400 and 10,000 on those same dates.) By Friday, Sept. 14, Walmart’s inventory was becoming depleted, but they still sold 135,000.
The companies which produce U.S. flags were having a similar experience. On the afternoon of Sept. 11, calls and orders to Annin, the country’s oldest flag company, began swamping its corporate headquarters. The atmosphere inside the flag factory was described as “wartime.” In order to meet demand, they had to triple production.
Other flag companies experienced the same dramatic increases, doubling or tripling their usual production. Demand was far greater than even during the country’s bicentennial or the Persian Gulf War.
Retailers were also besieged. Customers waited in line for hours. Many retailers would sell only flags made in America, and customers gladly paid more for the ”Made in the U.S.A.” label.
5. A Teenager Designed the Current Flag
In 1958, 17-year-old Robert Heft was a junior at Lancaster (Oh.) High School. Classmates described Heft as someone who “kept to himself until it came to politics and U.S. history.” He also possessed a love for the American flag which had developed during his years in the Boy Scouts.
So in 1958, when Heft’s American history teacher asked the class to select a project that would illustrate their interest in history, the teen’s choice was easy. Realizing that Alaska and Hawaii were likely to join the Union, Heft would design a 50-star American flag.
So he set to work cutting up an old flag that belonged to his grandparents. He spent the entire weekend creating a cardboard pattern and tracing 100 stars – 50 for each side of the blue fabric he purchased. Despite all of his hard work, his history teacher gave him a B- for the effort.
When Heft protested the grade, the teacher agreed to reconsider if the flag design was accepted by Congress. Heft immediately hopped on his bike and rode to the nearby home of his local congressman, who promised to take the design to Washington, DC.
The design was, in fact, adopted by Congress – but not until 1960. Nevertheless, the history teacher made good on his promise, finally changing Heft’s grade to an A, if only symbolically.
In 2011, a flagpole honoring Heft was installed at Lancaster High School. The inscription reads: “In memory of our classmate Bob Heft, Designer of the 50 star flag. Class of 1960.”