• Excerpted from U.S. Flag.org
The Fourth of July traditionally is celebrated as America’s birthday, but the idea of an annual day specifically celebrating its Flag is believed to not have originated until 1885, 108 years after the adoption of The Star & Stripes as the national flag.
B.J. Cigrand, a schoolteacher, arranged for the pupils in the Fredonia, WI, Public School District 6, to observe June 14 as “Flag Birthday.” In numerous magazines and newspaper articles and public addresses over the following years, Cigrand continued to enthusiastically advocate the observance of June 14 as “Flag Birthday” or “Flag Day.”
On June 14, 1889, George Balch, a kindergarten teacher in New York City, planned appropriate ceremonies for the children of his school, and his idea of observing Flag Day later was adopted by the New York State Board of Education. On June 14, 1891, the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia held a Flag Day celebration, and on June 14 of the following year the New York Society of the Sons of the Revolution celebrated Flag Day.
Following the suggestion of Colonel J. Granville Leach, who was historian of the Pennsylvania Society of the Sons of the Revolution, the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames of America on April 25, 1893, adopted a resolution requesting the mayor of Philadelphia and all others in authority and all private citizens to display the Flag on June 14. Leach went on to recommend that thereafter the day be known as “Flag Day,” and on that day, school children be assembled for appropriate exercises, with each child being given a small Flag.
Two weeks later, on May 8, the Board of Managers of the Pennsylvania Society of Sons of the Revolution unanimously endorsed the action of the Pennsylvania Society of Colonial Dames. As a result of the resolution, Dr. Edward Brooks, then superintendent of
- The flag should not be used as “wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery” …
- The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. …
- The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations.
- The flag should never be stepped on.
- When the flag is lowered, no part of it should touch the ground or any other object; it should be received by waiting hands and arms. To store the flag it should be folded neatly and ceremoniously.
- The flag should be cleaned and mended when necessary.
- No other flag should be placed above it. The flag of the United States is always the first flag raised and the last to be lowered.
- Ordinarily it should be displayed only between sunrise and sunset, although the Flag Code permits night time display “when a patriotic effect is desired” and the flag is illuminated.
Philadelphia’s Public Schools, directed that Flag Day exercises be held on June 14, 1893, in Independence Square. School children were assembled, each carrying a small Flag, and patriotic songs were sung and addresses delivered. Adults, too, participated in patriotic programs. Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, delivered a 1914 Flag Day address in which he repeated words he said the flag had spoken to him that morning: “I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.”
In 1894, New York Governor Roswell P. Flower directed that on June 14 the Flag be displayed on all public buildings.
With B.J. Cigrand and Leroy Van Horn as the moving spirits, the Illinois organization known as the American Flag Day Association was created for the purpose of promoting the holding of Flag Day exercises. On June 14, 1894, under the auspices of this association, the first general public school children’s celebration of Flag Day in Chicago was held in Douglas, Garfield, Humboldt, Lincoln, and Washington parks, with more than 300,000 children participating.
Adults, too, participated in patriotic programs. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Franklin K. Lane delivered a 1914 Flag Day address in which he repeated words he said the flag had spoken to him that morning: “I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself.”
Inspired by these three decades of state and local celebrations, Flag Day — the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 — was officially established by the proclamation of President Woodrow Wilson on May 30, 1916. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson’s proclamation, it was not until August 3, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.