What do The Colors of The American Flag Mean? (2023)

No matter which part of the world you come from, the American flag is instantly recognizable. For many, it’s a symbol of freedom and justice – the flag of a country where anything is possible. The national flag of the United States of America is also known as “Old Glory,” the “Stars and Stripes,” and the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The Continental Congress of America initially conceived it.

What do The Colors of The American Flag Mean? (1)

Throughout American history, the design and colors of the flag have encompassed the nation’s patriotic ideals. It has been a symbol of freedom and something that Americans cherish since 1777.

In this article, we’ll explore the meaning of the flag’s red, white, and blue colors and delve into the history of how it was designed and evolved over centuries. We’ll also take a closer look at the stars and stripes pattern, the decorated trim on some of the American flags, and if there’s more to the iconic design elements than the official meaning.

Finally, we’ll explore how the American flag is used during funerals and provide guidelines on how it should be retired when it is time to do so. But before we look at how the Star-Spangled Banner should be treated at the end of its lifespan, let’s learn more about its early beginnings.

History of The Red, White, and Blue

The American flag’s design has been officially changed 27 times since 1777. Although it had humble beginnings, the iconic red, white, and blue flag became an inspiration for holidays, poems, songs, works of art, books, and so much more. It’s been an essential symbol for over 200 years and continues to represent freedom, dignity, and what it truly means to be an American.

The first official flag was called the Grand Union Flag or the Continental Colors. It consisted of thirteen red and white stripes and the United Kingdom’s Union Jack flag in the upper-left corner. The design was similar to the flag used by the British East India Company between 1701 and 1801, but it didn’t have the same number of stripes. The Grand Union Flag was flown until 1777, when the secretary of the Continental Congress authorized a committee to create a grand seal for the United States of America.

What do The Colors of The American Flag Mean? (2)

The mission was to design a physical symbol of what the United States of America stands for. On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the first Flag Resolution, which officially adopted the Stars and Stripes as the official American flag. Since then, June 14 has been celebrated as Flag Day.

The Continental Congress did not explain why they chose red, white, and blue for the flag in the resolution. However, Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress, provided a detailed summary of the meaning behind the colors of the flag. Thomson stated:

  • The white signifies purity and innocence.
  • Blue signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
  • The red signifies hardiness and valor.

In 1794, after the second Flag Act was signed, two additional stars and two more stripes were added. This addition symbolized the states of Kentucky and Vermont joining the Union. After five additional states were added to the Union, the flag remained in use until 1818, when the third Flag Act was signed. The act increased the number of stars and reduced the number of stripes from 15 to 13.

As the flag evolved over the years, it became a firm tradition to add a star for every state that entered the Union. Today, the American flag has 50 stars and has remained unchanged since Alaska entered the Union in 1959 and Hawaii joined in 1960. This is the longest time a single design has remained in place for the American flag.

(Video) What do the Colors of the US Flag Symbolize?

Other American Flags

In the early days of the United States, Americans flew two other flags supporting independence. In 1775, Colonel William Moultrie commissioned the “Moultrie flag,” which features a white crescent moon with the word “Liberty” inscribed on a navy blue background. Colonel Moultrie commissioned this flag as part of his preparation for war with Great Britain.

Also, in 1775, Christopher Gadsden designed the “Gadsden flag,” which features a rattlesnake with the phrase, “Don’t tread on me,” inscribed on a yellow background. During the early years of the war, the continental marines used this flag. It was flown as the Americans triumphed over the British at the Battle of Sullivan’s Island in 1776. The Gadsden flag continues to be used as a sign of patriotism.

Who Sewed and Designed The First Official Star-Spangled Banner?

What do The Colors of The American Flag Mean? (3)

Although there are various stories about the true origin of the American flag, the one that’s stood the test of time is that Elizabeth Griscom, also known as Betsy Ross, was the person who sewed the first national flag in June 1776.

The rumor goes that George Washington, Robert Morris, and George Ross visited Betsy Ross to talk about the design of the first national flag. The original design featured stars with six sides representing the thirteen colonies on a blue background with red and white stripes.

Betsy suggested a five-pointed star and demonstrated her ability to cut stars out quickly and effectively, to the amazement of the three men. It was this skill that prompted them to hire her on the spot.

This story came from Betsy’s grandson, William J. Canby, who presented the theory to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1870. Since Betsy had died 20 years earlier, there was no evidence to substantiate this claim.

As for the design of the American flag, Francis Hopkinson, one of the Founding Fathers of America and the chairman of the Navy Board’s Middle Department, claimed he was responsible for it. The Marine Committee, who had been using the guidelines set out for flags since 1776, and was in charge of the Navy Board, adopted this resolution. In 1780, Hopkinson requested a quarter cask of wine to compensate him for his help designing the national flag and the Great Seal of the United States. His letter was unanswered, and he made another request, asking for £2,700.

The Chamber of Accounts and James Milligan, the Auditor General, investigated Hopkinson’s claim and found that he was not solely responsible for the work as he was not the only person on the three Great Seal committees or the Navy Committee. There are no illustrations of the initial design, but it most likely had thirteen red and white stripes and thirteen six-pointed stars on a blue background.

What The Colors of The Flag Signify

Even though there are many popular myths surrounding the history of the flag’s colors, red, white, and blue were not chosen for any particular reason back in 1777. America inherited the colors from the Great British flag. However, as mentioned above, Charles Thompson noted the representations of the flag’s colors.

Since there is no official explanation for the choice of colors of the American flag, Thompson’s description is generally accepted. But if we delve deeper into the meaning of the red, white, and blue, we find more powerful symbolism within our nation’s treasured flag. Let’s begin with the red.

Old Glory Red Stands for Hardiness and Valor

The color red has been significant throughout history in great artworks and literary pieces. It expresses energy, passion, excitement, and everything intense. Red can also signify danger.

The symbolic meaning behind red used in the American flag has similar connotations. Hardiness and valor mean tenacity and courage despite the danger, especially during battles or times of great duress. The red color in the modern American flag is aptly called Old Glory Red.

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Old Glory White Signifies Purity and Innocence

The color white is the very opposite of darkness. It symbolizes light emanating from kindness, goodness, and sincerity. In the land of hope and dreams, purity and innocence are the foundation of freedom. Those who sacrificed their lives to ensure that future generations will continue to enjoy these liberties did so with purity of thought.

The freedoms set out by the Founding Fathers of America continue to live on through every American. In the American flag, the white stripes represent qualities of innocence and purity. The color white is called Old Glory White.

Old Glory Blue Signifies Vigilance, Perseverance, and Justice

The color blue is symbolic of calm, intelligence, responsibility, and peace. Dark blue signifies power and depth and is the color of clear skies and calm oceans. The symbolic meaning behind blue in the American flag is vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

It’s every American’s responsibility to remain vigilant in keeping the ideals of America alive. It means staying determined and focused at all times. Despite opposition, difficulties, and failure, American citizens persevere. As the blue ocean and the blue sky will persevere, so will America, making blue an excellent color for the flag.

Justice is an important symbol in the American flag because it’s the pillar of democracy. America’s justice system helps ensure educational opportunities, economic equality, and more. The color blue of the American flag is called Old Glory Blue.

Thirteen Stripes and Fifty Stars

For 47 years, the star-spangled banner had 48 stars until an additional star was added on July 4, 1959. In 1960, President Eisenhower made the 50-star flag official, which has been used for over six decades. But what do the thirteen stripes and fifty stars mean?

What the Red and White Stripes Represent

The American flag has seven red stripes and six white stripes, all of an equal width running horizontally across. The formation begins and ends with red stripes with white stripes alternating between the other five red stripes. The thirteen Glory red and Glory white stripes represent the thirteen original colonies of the United States of America, including:

What do The Colors of The American Flag Mean? (4)
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Virginia

There is a rumor that the American flag was once designed to serve as two flags, one for the United States of America government and the other for the United States Navy. The difference between the flags was said to be the order of the red and white stripes. The government flag featured a red stripe at the top, and the naval flag ordered the stripes with the white stripe first. Later, the red stripes became the dominant stripes for practical reasons – they would show less wear and tear and dirt than white.

The Meaning of the Stars in the Star-Spangled Banner

The American flag contains fifty white stars on a Glory Blue background located at the top, left corner of the flag. The Continental Congress committee, tasked initially to design the flag, used thirteen stars in the design. Just like the thirteen stripes, the thirteen stars represented the thirteen original states.

Today, the American flag contains fifty white stars in a blue field representing the current states. As additional states were added, the number of stars changed, as did the arrangement of the stars on the flag. Currently, the stars are arranged in nine rows alternating between rows of five and rows of six stars.

What About The Trim?

Traditionally, the American flag is decorated with golden fringe, especially during ceremonies. The United States of America Army and Airforce typically uses a fringed flag for important indoor displays and parades. In contrast, the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps would use the flag without a fringe.

The first time American history recorded the use of fringe was in 1835, and the first official use of the golden fringe trim was in 1895 by the United States Army. There is no particular law around the use of fringe trim as decoration on the flag, but in 1925 the attorney general addressed the use of fringe in the flag. The opinion was that fringe was a military ensign rather than something used by civilians.

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The book “So Proudly We Hail, The History of the United States Flag” by Wiliam R. Furlong and Byron McCandless states that using fringe on the flag, although not officially adopted, is not prohibited. It should, however, not be used on outdoor flags as it would deteriorate too quickly. Furthermore, the trim should be considered as enrichment only and not be an integral part of the red, white, and blue flag.

As such, the gold trim is generally only used on ceremonial indoor flags for special occasions and services, mainly in a military setting.

How The American Flag is Used During Funerals

The red, white, and blue flag unites the citizens of the United States of America as a strong and enduring nation filled with the best of the human spirit. But, it is also a symbol of hope during times of sadness and strife. Nothing can be a more fitting symbol to honor and respect a deceased American. For this reason, service members often use the American flag during funerals. If you use the flag during a ceremony, you should observe the following rules:

  • The flag should never touch the ground and should never be lowered into a grave.
  • It should never cover a monument or statue.
  • Take care not to tear it, dirty it, or damage it in any way.
  • Never attach anything to American flags.
  • Don’t place anything on the flag.
  • Never mark a flag.
  • Should an American flag be marked, torn, damaged, or dirtied, it should no longer be displayed in public and appropriately destroyed.
  • When the flag is draped over a casket, the pallbearers should hold it and fold it correctly immediately after sounding “Taps.”

Folding the American Flag During a Funeral

How the Star Spangled Banner is folded is part of American history. It has to occur precisely because each fold has a specific and different meaning. The origins of the folding procedure are unknown, but there is speculation that it may have been an Air Force chaplain or the Gold Star Mothers of America who first used it to honor fallen veterans.

When the flag is fully folded, it leaves the blue area with thirteen stars. It looks similar to the cocked hats General George Washington’s soldiers wore during the Revolutionary War. According to the American Legion, the Old Glory Blue field of the flag represents the states the veteran has served and is a symbol of honor.

American Flags and Caskets

For practical reasons, the tradition of covering a deceased Veteran with an American flag started during the Napoleonic wars in the late 1700s. It made sense to cover the deceased on a battlefield with a flag so both sides could quickly identify their soldiers. Today, although the tradition is no longer associated with battle, it is still used for burying Veterans to remind their family and friends of the deceased’s service to the United States of America and its citizens.

Today the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has a list of guidelines on how the American flag should be displayed during a Veteran’s funeral:

Closed Casket –When the casket is closed during the service, the flag is draped on the casket. The blue field should be situated at the head of the deceased over their left shoulder.

Half-Open Casket (Half Couch) –The flag is placed in three layers when the casket is half-open as the funeral takes place. The blue field will be displayed next to the open portion of the casket on the deceased’s left side and is part of the top fold.

Open Casket (Full Couch) –When the casket is open during the funeral, the flag should be folded traditionally in a triangular shape and placed above the deceased’s left shoulder.

Cremation –When the deceased is cremated, the flag should also be folded traditionally in a triangular shape. It should then be displayed during the service next to the cremated remains.

How to Get an American Flag for a Veteran’s Funeral

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides flags to Veterans who meet their requirements. Families who wish to receive a military-standard American flag can talk to their funeral professional about it. They can help guide them to the proper form that has to be filled in to request a flag.

Flags are usually distributed to Veterans Affairs offices; one flag per qualifying Veteran is available.

(Video) What do the colors of the American Flag Symbolize pt. 1

Presenting the American Flag to the Deceased’s Family

Presenting the flag to the deceased’s family is an integral part of the process of military honors. The American military has various service branches, and each has its own speech when presenting the flag to the deceased’s family. Still, it is almost always presented on behalf of the President of the United States and the country.

Presenting the Flag at Funerals for Police Officers and Emergency Responders

The etiquette around presenting the American flag at a funeral for a fallen police officer originates from the Civil War when soldiers would return from battle and join the police force. The guidelines are in line with military funerals. Sometimes a police chief will choose to use the department’s flag instead of the American flag. The tradition is newer for funerals of firefighters and E.M.S. officers and is still evolving.

The American flag is essential in paying respect to military personnel, police officers, and emergency service personnel at their funerals. Understanding and practicing these honors and traditions can mean the world to the deceased’s family and friends.

Retirement: How to Properly Retire The American Flag

Since the red, white, and blue flag was first used, it held vital significance for Americans. It is so much more than just their mother country’s flag. According to the U.S. Flag Code of Conduct, the American flag should be considered a living thing and treated with the utmost respect, regardless of political background or views.

The U.S. Flag Code states that all American flags that are no longer in a suitable condition to be displayed should be destroyed in a dignified manner, such as burning. Doing this is known as the retirement process, which is a significant part of paying respect to the flag.

When the Flag Should be Retired

It is up to the flag owner to decide when to retire their flag. You can wash your flag and repair it when it becomes dirty or tattered. But after a while, when it is too discolored, threadbare, or broken, it’s usually best to retire your flag with dignity. The U.S. Flag Code does not specify any organization or requirements for someone to retire an American flag, which means anyone can do it. There is no need to officiate an official flag retirement ceremony, but every retirement should be dignified, private, and solemn.

Steps to Retire the American Flag

The most dignified and preferred way to retire an American flag is by fire. The flag must be burnt to ashes. Since this is not always a viable option, there are other options to retire your flag:

Contact an Official Group for Help –You can get in touch with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (V.F.W.), The American Legion, Elks Lodge, or a similar organization in your area. They will know how to retire an American flag correctly and can assist you.

Recycle your Flag– Some companies offer a recycling service for a donation or nominal fee. These companies are relatively easy to find with an internet search. Be sure to research to ensure you are dealing with a respectable company.

Stars For Our Troops Program– This program takes old, embroidered American flags made in the U.S.A., and converts them into prized possessions for American soldiers. Volunteers cut each star from the flag, dispose of the stripes in a dignified manner and place the stars into a small plastic bag with a card that reads, “I am part of our American flag that has flown over the U.S.A. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds have caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that you are not forgotten.”

If you have an embroidered flag that was made in the U.S.A., and you would like to contribute it to the Stars For Our Troops Program, you can send it to:

Stars for Our Troops, Inc.

2 116th St, Box 301

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Troy, NY 12182-0301

The True Meaning of Being an American

Since 1777, when the Continental Congress first conceived of the idea of the American flag, it represented honor, valor, vigilance, perseverance, and justice. It goes without saying that the iconic red, white, and blue flag is one of the most powerful, moving, and important symbols of our country. Proud Americans have sung the national anthem as the flag is raised. Veterans and fallen soldiers have waged battles, encouraged by what our flag signifies as blood spilled for the freedoms of future generations.

There is so much more behind the American flag’s red, white, and blue than specific meaning to each of the flag’s colors. It represents all of us and all the values every American holds sacred.


What does the red white and blue to this mean to us? ›

“The colors of our flag signify the qualities of the human spirit we Americans cherish,” Reagan said. “Red for courage and readiness to sacrifice; white for pure intentions and high ideals; and blue for vigilance and justice.” The significance behind the flag's design is more commonly known than that of its colors.

What is the true meaning of the flag? ›

One of the first flags had the stars arranged in a circle, based on the idea that all colonies were equal. The thirteen stripes, resting side by side, represented the struggle for independence; red stood for valor, white signified purity and blue represented loyalty.

What does red and blue symbolize? ›

Since then people have speculated what the colors of the U.S. flag have come to symbolize over time. The white color signifies purity and peace. The red hue symbolizes valor, courage, enthusiasm, blood and life while the blue color indicates perseverance, justice, vigilance and respect for God.

What do the 5 colors represent? ›

“The Olympic flag has a white background, with five interlaced rings in the centre: blue, yellow, black, green and red. This design is symbolic; it represents the five continents of the world, united by Olympism, while the six colours are those that appear on all the national flags of the world at the present time.”

What do the 7 colors represent? ›

Each of the original eight colours represented an idea: pink for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, blue for art, indigo for harmony, and violet for spirit. Before becoming synonymous with fabulous pride movements, the rainbow flag has stood for many social movements.


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