Flag Day History & Important Flag Etiquette

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Tony Maples Photography


Today, June 14,  marks Flag Day in the United States and falls in National Flag Week. This holiday celebrates the adoption of the American flag by the Continental Congress in the First Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777. The first resolution signified the flag should be “13 stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

And, not coincidentally, the U.S. Army also celebrates its birthday today.

Flag Day traces its roots to 1885, when Bernard J. Cigrand, a school teacher at Stony Hill School in Waubeka, Wisconsin, held the first unofficial observance for the American banner at his school. Cigrand went on to deliver speeches around the country about patriotism and the flag and later became president of the American Flag Day Association and the National Flag Day Society.

President Woodrow Wilson signed the first national proclamation designating June 14, 1916 as National Flag Day. President Calvin Coolidge did the same in 1927 but it wasn’t until 1949 that it was officially signed into law by President Harry Truman.

On June 14, 1937 Pennsylvania became the first state to celebrate Flag Day as a state holiday. Flag Day is not a federal holiday, however and businesses and government offices remain open.

The week of June 14 is designated as National Flag Week and people are urged to fly the American flag throughout the week. There are also parades and other celebrations, including ceremonies at Waubeka, Wisconsin where a bust of Cigrand stands today.

Flag Etiquette

Please visit military.com for a complete list of “dos and don’ts” associated with honoring and displaying the flag. Here are a few good rules of thumb:

When displaying the flag, do the following:

  • Display the U.S. flag from sunrise to sunset on buildings and stationary flagstaffs in the open. If displayed at night the flag should be property illuminated.
  • The U.S. Flag should be placed above all others if multiple flags are on the same staff.
  • When flags are displayed in a row, the U.S. flag goes to the observer’s left. Flags of other nations are flown at same height. State and local flags are traditionally flown lower.
  • When used during a marching ceremony or parade with other flags, the U.S. Flag will be to the observer’s left.
  • When flown at half-staff, should be first hoisted to the peak for an instant and then lowered to the half-staff position. The flag should be again raised to the peak before it is lowered for the day. By “half-staff” is meant lowering the flag to one-half the distance between the top and bottom of the staff.
  • When the flag is displayed over the middle of the street, it should be suspended vertically with the union (blue field of stars) to the north in an east and west street or to the east in a north and south street.
  • When placed on a Podium the flag should be placed on the speaker’s right or the staging area. Other flags should be placed to the left.
  • When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall (or other flat surface), the union (blue field of stars) should be uppermost and to the flag’s own right, that is, to the observer’s left.

When stowing or disposing of the flag:

  • Fold in the traditional triangle for stowage, never wadded up.
  • The VFW offers the following instructions for properly disposing of a worn flag:
  • The flag should be folded in its customary manner.
  • It is important that the fire be fairly large and of sufficient intensity to ensure complete burning of the flag.
  • Place the flag on the fire.
  • The individual(s) can come to attention, salute the flag, recite the Pledge of Allegiance and have a brief period of silent reflection.
  • After the flag is completely consumed, the fire should then be safely extinguished and the ashes buried.
  • Please make sure you are conforming to local/state fire codes or ordinances.

Quick List of Flag Etiquette “Don’ts”:

  • Don’t dip the U.S. Flag for any person, flag, or vessel.
  • Don’t let the flag touch the ground.
  • Don’t fly flag upside down unless there is an emergency.
  • Don’t carry the flag flat, or carry things in it.
  • Don’t use the flag as clothing.
  • Don’t store the flag where it can get dirty.
  • Don’t use it as a cover.
  • Don’t fasten it or tie it back. Always allow it to fall free.
  • Don’t draw on, or otherwise mark the flag.
  • Don’t use the flag for decoration. Use bunting with the blue on top, then white, then red.