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Know The History Behind Your State’s Flag

Image Source: Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock

Alabama

People from Alabama are familiar with the fact that quite a few historic figures grew up under this state’s flag. Notable individuals such as, Helen Keller, the first deaf and blind person to earn a college degree, and Rosa Parks, the civil rights activist, best known for her central role in the Montgomery bus boycott.

On February 16, 1895, 76 years after Alabama joined the Union, it finally came time for Sweet Home Alabama to officially adopt their own flag. They decided to go for a “crimson cross of St. Andrew on a field of white” (characteristic of the Confederate flag). According to the Alabama Department of Archives and History, the flag’s design was intended to “preserve in permanent form some of the more distinctive features of the Confederate battle flag”.

Alabama’s flag is also on the (short) list of state flags that don’t include the color blue. The other three states are California, Maryland, and New Mexico.

Alaska

Many (non-Alaskan) Americans may not realize that Alaska is the largest state in the union! It is twice the size of Texas and approximately 1/5 of the entire U.S.A.

In 1926, the Alaskan-American Legion, in cooperation with the territorial governor, held a flag-designing contest for children. The unanimous winner was a flag designed by 13-year-old , John “Benny” Benson, from an orphanage in Unalaska, Alaska.

Benson said that he looked to the sky for inspiration, as his design incorporated the familiar constellation he’d admire every night. Eight stars- the Big Dipper constellation, and the North Star, on a field of blue, also a reference to the Alaskan sky and its prominent Forget-me-Not flower (which later officially became the state flower).

Benson had even attached his interpretation of the design with his submission: “The North Star is for the future of the state of Alaska, the most northerly in the Union. The Dipper is for the Great Bear—symbolizing strength.” He was awarded US$1,000 and an engraved watch for his great achievement.

Fun fact: Did you know that the current flag of the U.S.A, with 50 stars and 13 stripes, was also designed by a teenager? In 1958, 17-year-old, high school student, Robert G. Heft, of Lancaster, Ohio submitted his flag design in competition, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower chose it out of 1,500 entries!

Arizona

Arizonans are usually very proud of their state flag, and they aren’t the only ones who admire it! Back in 2001, in a poll conducted by the North American Vexillological Association, the Arizona flag ranked sixth of 72 North American flags, making it one of the “10 best flags on the continent,”.

The Arizona state flag was adopted in 1917. According to the Arizona Secretary of State, the flag was purposely designed to consist of two distinct halves.

The top includes 13 alternating red and yellow rays represent the original 13 colonies. The yellow and red colors are an ode to the Spanish flags carried by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado when he explored Arizona but also represent the state’s picturesque horizon.

The bottom half is solid blue, a tribute to the U.S.A. flag, while the large copper-hued star in the center represents Arizona’s status as the number one producer in the nation. What a beautiful flag indeed!

Arkansas

Did you know that you’d be breaking state law if you mispronounce the word “Arkansas” while in the state? Arkansas was named by French settlers, so, like many French words, the “s” at the end of “Arkansas” is silent. Make sure you practice before visiting!

Esthetically speaking, unlike the Arizona state flag, not many people are fond of Arkansas’ flag. To its defense, it may appear to be simple, but in fact, it is rich in symbolism. According to the Arkansas Secretary of State, the large diamond represented its status as “the only diamond-bearing state in the Union” at the time it was designed (before diamonds were found in Montana and Colorado).

The 25 stars bordering the diamond reminds us that Arkansas was the 25th state admitted to the Union, while the three blue stars below the state’s name in the center of the flag have a double meaning. Arkansas has been part of three countries: Spain, France, and the United State, and it was also the third state to come out of the Louisiana Purchase. Three seems to be a pretty significant number in the state’s history.

The top lone star, added in 1923, represents the Confederacy, and you may also notice how the border around the white diamond evokes the iconic saltire on the Confederate battle flag.

California

If you can’t bear a crowd (no pun intended), then stay away from California, or at least from its big cities. With 39.56 million residents, it is the USA’s most populous state, and three out of the ten largest cities in the country are located  in California: Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Jose

Officially adopted in 1911, the flag of California made its debut way before then in 1846, as an act of rebellion against Mexico, its governer at the time. The California grizzly bear, once ubiquitous to state, symbolizes strength but was also intended to intimidate Mexican authorities. The red star is said to be an ode to the “lone star of Texas.”

If the image of a bear doesn’t exactly bring a picture of California to mind, it’s because they’re no longer there. California was formerly known as the Grizzly Bear State; however; the once iconic California grizzly bear is now extinct. So, California later became known as “the Golden State.”

Today, some Californians have expressed their desire for a new state flag. Not only is the bear image misleading but some feel that it’s strongly associated with a period that no longer reflects the state’s spirit.

What do you think? Can you think of any U.S. flags that are due for a makeover?

Colorado

Coloradans most likely know that their state’s name is Spanish for ‘red-colored’, referring to its red-hued earth.

Colorado’s is another state flag that was adopted in 1911, and it was heavily inspired by its scenic nature. The blue represents the state’ open blue skies and the white stripe symbolizes its snowcapped Rockie mountains.

The letter “C” in the center of the flag is the same red used in the U.S. flag but also represents Colorado’s rich red earth, and the golden disk inside the “C” celebrates the state’s abundant sunshine.

Connecticut

Did you know that Connecticut is officially known as “the Constitution State”? It refers to the state government’s establishment of the Fundamental Orders in 1639, which is considered the first written constitution in North America.

The Connecticut state flag had already been widely accepted as the state’s official flag for decades but was officially adopted in 1895. This blue flag includes a white shield with three grapevines on it that stand for religion, liberty, and knowledge, as well as the three original colonies— Saybrook, New Haven, and Connecticut (Hartford)—that merged together to become one state.

The Latin banner below the shield was inspired by the official seal bought from England by Colonel George Fenwick’s who oversaw Saybrook. It displayed the quote (and state motto)- “Qui Transtulit Sustinet,” which translates from Latin to “He Who Transplanted Still Sustains.”

Delaware

DelawareansDid you know that the reggae pioneer Bob Marley once lived in Delaware? He resided in the state from 1965-1977, and his son, Stephen Marley, was born in Wilmington.

The state of Delaware is nicknamed the “First State” because it was the first state to ratify the federal Constitution on December 7, 1787, making it the first state admitted to the union. The colors on the Delaware state flag, buff, and colonial blue, represent those of a uniform worn by General George Washington.

Florida, known as “the Sunshine State”, boasts the second-longest coastline in the country. Its flag features a crimson St. Andrew’s cross with the state seal in the center, depicting a shoreline and a Seminole woman spreading flowers.

Georgia, famous for the Cyclorama Building in Atlanta, has had three different state flags since 2001. The current flag was chosen after a statewide vote in 2004 and is based on the Confederate flag’s “stars and bars” but no longer includes the St. Andrew’s cross.

Hawaii’s state flag, adopted in 1845, incorporates the red, white, and blue stripes of the U.S.A flag and the British Union Jack of the U.K. The eight stripes represent the eight main islands in the chain.

Idaho is known as “the Gem State”. Its flag, also navy blue like the U.S. flag, includes the state seal designed by a woman, Emma Edwards, and reflects Idaho’s main industries of mining, agriculture, forestry, and wildlife.

Illinois’ state flag displays a bald eagle holding a red banner in its beak with the state’s motto, “State Sovereignty, National Union.” The word “sovereignty” is placed upside down to make it harder to read.

Indiana’s dark blue flag has a torch in its center symbolizing liberty and enlightenment. There are a total of nineteen stars representing the original thirteen colonies and the next five states expected to join the Union.

Iowa’s flag, adopted in 1921, features vertical red, white, and blue colors symbolizing the flag of France and representing the Native Americans who resided there before the colonization by Europeans.

Kansas’ state flag, adopted in 1927, features a dark-blue background with the state seal in the center and a wild sunflower, the state flower.The flag of Kansas features a gold and blue bar between the sunflower and the seal, representing the Louisiana Purchase. The seal displays the state motto, “Ad Astra per Aspera,” which means “To the Stars through Difficulties,” along with thirty-four stars to denote that Kansas was the 34th state to join the Union. The word “Kansas” was later added to the bottom of the flag in 1961.

Kentucky’s state flag features the Bluegrass State’s seal in the center of a navy blue background. The seal depicts two men, one wearing buckskin representing frontiersmen, and the other in a suit representing statesmen. It also includes the state motto, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” along with a goldenrod wreath. It is believed that the buckskin-clad man could be Daniel Boone and the man in the suit could be Henry Clay.

The state flag of Louisiana is an azure blue that features a “pelican in her piety,” symbolizing the state’s willingness to sacrifice itself for its citizens. The flag also includes the state motto, “Union Justice Confidence.”

Maine’s current state flag features the Maine Coat of Arms on a blue field depicting a farmer with a scythe, a seaman with an anchor, and a moose resting under a large pine tree. The state’s motto, “Dirigo” meaning “I lead,” is written between the shield and the North Star.

The Maryland state flag was adopted in 1904 and features bold colors and interesting patterns inspired by the shield in the coat of arms of the Calvert-Crossland families of George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore (1579–1632).

Massachusetts has three official flags: a state flag, a governor’s flag, and a maritime flag. The state flag consists of the Massachusetts coat of arms, which includes an Algonquin Native American from the Massachuset tribe, carrying a bow and arrow pointing downward symbolizing peace. The state’s motto, “Ense Petit Placidam, Sub Libertate Quietem,” is written on a ribbon around the lower part of the shield.

Michigan’s state flag was adopted in 1911 and showcases national and state values. The flag includes the state’s coat of arms, which features an eagle, a sunrise over a lake, a man standing on a grassy peninsula, and the animals of Michigan. The shield of arms depicts three state mottos: “E Pluribus Unum,” “Tuebor,” and “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice.”

Minnesota’s official flag includes its state seal surrounded by a wreath of flowers on a blue background. The flag bears dates representing significant milestones in the state’s history. The seal also displays the state motto: “L’Etoile du Nord,” along with a representation of the North Star.

Mississippi’s state flag resembles Georgia’s, but it retains the Confederate battle flag blue-star-adorned cross, which remains a highly controversial symbol. Despite various proposals, the original design of the flag has been upheld.

Missouri adopted an official flag in 1913, designed by Marie Elizabeth Watkins Oliver, featuring symbolism inspired by Missouri’s historic coat of arms.The Missouri state flag features a Bald Eagle with olive branches symbolizing peace and arrows symbolizing the readiness for war, a grizzly bear representing strength and courage, and a crescent moon representing a bright future. The words “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” are also featured on the flag. The flag’s horizontal stripes of red, white, and blue are reminiscent of the state’s French heritage, and the coat of arms is supported by two additional grizzly bears standing on a scroll inscribed with the words “Salus populi suprema lex esto”, which translates to “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” Below the scroll are the Roman numerals for 1820 circled with a band of 24 stars denoting Missouri’s induction into the union.

Montana’s state flag, adopted in 1905, features a seal depicting a miner’s pick and a shovel with the Great Falls of the Missouri River running nearby, surrounded by picturesque mountain scenery. A ribbon beneath the mining tools displays the Spanish words “Oro y Plata” (gold and silver), the state motto, and the state’s name “Montana” appears above the seal.

Nebraska’s state flag, adopted in 1963, features a blacksmith using a hammer and anvil symbolizing the mechanic arts, and wheat sheaves, stalks of corn, and a settler’s cabin representing agriculture. In the background, there’s a steamboat on the Missouri River, and a train on the transcontinental railroad headed west toward the Rockies. The banner above the landscape bears the state motto: “Equality Before the Law”. Circling the seal are the words “Great Seal of the State of Nebraska” and “March 1st, 1867,” the year Nebraska was admitted into the Union.

Nevada’s state flag, set on a ‘cobalt blue’ background, features several state symbols including a wreath composed of two crossed sprays of sagebrush, a silver star at the center, and the word “Nevada” positioned underneath the star in yellow. A ribbon above the wreath contains the words “Battle Born” in recognition of the fact that Nevada gained its statehood during the Civil War.

New Hampshire’s state flag features the State Seal on a deep blue background, depicting the frigate Raleigh in front of the rising sun. The Raleigh is famous for being one of the first warships to carry the American flag in battle during the British in the Revolutionary War. The flag also features a gray granite boulder near the ship, symbolizing the state nickname “the Granite State”. The seal is encircled by yellow laurel wreaths alternating with nine stars that symbolize New Hampshire as the ninth state admitted to the Union.

New Jersey’s state flag, with colors chosen by George Washington, features the state seal, which includes a helmet and horse’s head as symbols of New Jersey’s status as one of the first states to sign the U.S. Constitution. The shield exhibits the state’s agriculture with three rows of plows, and a ribbon displays the state’s motto “Liberty and Prosperity” and “1776” the year New Jersey became a state.

New Mexico’s state flag, designed in 1920, features the Zia sun symbol, representing the Circle of Life, with four groups of rays radiating from it at right angles in four directions. The flag’s bright red Zia sun is centered on a brilliant yellow background, honoring the Spanish who came to explore Mexico in the 1500s. The number four is a sacred number to the Zia people, representing the four winds, four seasons, four directions, and four sacred obligations.

New York’s state flag features the state seal on a blue background, with two goddesses, Liberty and Justice, on either side symbolizing “Liberty and Justice for all,”. The seal also features an American eagle looking toward the west, sitting atop a globe, and a banner with the state motto, “Excelsior”, Latin for “Ever Upward”. On the shield itself, there are two ships sailing the Hudson River, with three mountains in the background, and a sun rising.

North Carolina’s state flag features red, white, and blue colors, with a golden ribbon above the state initials “N” “C”, separated by a white star, bearing the date “May 20, 1775,” commemorating the “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence,” and a similar ribbon below displays the date “April 12, 1776.”The “Halifax Resolves” refers to the pivotal moment when the North Carolina delegates at the Continental Congress voted for independence.

The civil war, the “The Old North State” Infantry carried a regimental and Confederate flag, and the 1885 design remains unchanged to this day.

The North Dakota state flag features a classic bald eagle carrying an olive branch and a sheath of arrows, symbolizing “peace through strength.” The eagle’s breast has a red, white, and blue shield with 13 strips, and above the eagle are 13 stars, referencing the original 13 states. The state’s name “North Dakota” is displayed on a red banner beneath the eagle.

The Ohio state flag, adopted in 1902, has a burgee shape and features alternating red and white stripes. The 13 stars to the left represent the original 13 states, while the four additional ones to the right denote Ohio as the 17th state to join the Union.

The Oklahoma state flag was inspired by its original Native American residents and features an Osage warrior’s buffalo-skin shield with seven eagle feathers. The flag also includes an olive branch crossed by a peace pipe, symbolizing peace between Europeans and Native Americans.

Oregon has the only U.S. state flag with a different design on each side, both navy blue with a gold design. One side shows the state seal, while the reverse side features a beaver, the state animal, and a symbol of Oregon’s history of beaver trapping and trading.

Pennsylvania’s state flag, authorized in 1799, features the State Coat of Arms on a deep “Old Glory” blue field, with two black horses supporting the shield.

Rhode Island adopted its state flag in 1897, featuring a golden anchor encircled by 13 gold stars on a white field. The anchor holds the state motto “Hope” in gold letters on a blue ribbon.

South Carolina’s state flag includes a palmetto at the center, symbolizing the heroic defense of the palmetto-log fort on Sullivan’s Island against the British fleet. The flag also includes a crescent-moon-shape and a dark blue field representing the color of the uniforms worn by South Carolina’s soldiers during the war.

The South Dakota state flag features a seal in the center of a sky blue field, depicting a picturesque scene of a steamboat on a river, a farmer plowing a field, and mountains in the distance. The flag includes the state motto “Under God the People Rule” and the phrase “South Dakota, The Mount Rushmore State.”

The flag of Tennessee consists of an emblem featuring three stars on a blue circle, on a field of bright red, with a strip of dark blue on the fly. The three stars symbolize purity and are bound together by the endless circle of the blue field, representing an indissoluble trinity.

Texas’ official state flag is famous for its “lone star” design and is one of the most recognizable flags in the United States.star.” According to Texas Hill Country, the simple but iconic star “symbolizes Texan solidarity after declaring independence from Mexico,”. Additionally, the blue stripe stands for loyalty, the white purity, and the red bravery incorporating both Texan and American values.
Author, Adina de Zavala, once described how each point stands for the characteristics of a star citizen, and those are fortitude, loyalty, righteousness, prudence, and broadmindedness.

Utah’s state flag features its state seal, adopted in 1896, encapsulated in a golden ring in the middle of a deep blue field. Utah, often nicknamed “The Beehive State”, made it a point to feature a beehive on the state flag, symbolizing hard work and industry. The beehive is flanked by sego lilies, which is the state flower but also a symbol for peace. The state motto “Industry” is displayed above the beehive with the word “Utah” below it. Above the seal, there’s an eagle seemingly ready for flight, with six arrows beneath it, and two American flags on either side of the coat of arms.
There are also two notable dates on the flag: 1847, the year Brigham Young, religious leader and the first governor of Utah, along with his Mormon followers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, and 1896, the year Utah became the 45th state to be admitted into the Union. The Utah state flag design has remained relatively untouched since 1913; however, rumor has it that Utah legislators are currently debating whether to adopt a new state flag.

Vermont is famous for producing some of the finest dairy products in the nation, so it’s no surprise that the state chose to showcase a red heifer on its flag. Along with it in the state’s coat of arms is a large pine tree, and three sheaves of wheat, with mountains rising in the background representing their scenic nature and rich agriculture.
On top of the coat of arm is a buck’s head, and on each side of it are two pine boughs crossed under a red banner with the words “Vermont”, and the state’s motto, “Freedom and Unity” below.

Ironically, the state flag of Virginia was officially adopted when the state seceded from the Union back in 1861 on the eve of the Civil War.
The bright blue flag features Virginia’s seal, which itself features Virtus, the Roman goddess of virtue holding a spear facing downward and a sword facing up. She’s pictured standing atop a man, Tyranny, with his fallen crown off to the side, symbolizing Virginia’s release from the monarchical control of Great Britain. In addition to the name “Virginia,” atop, the state motto: “Sic Semper Tyrranis,” which means “Thus Always To Tyrants,” appears below. Pretty hardcore we might add.

One popular misconception is that Washington’s capital city is Seattle, when in fact it’s Olympia! This is an honest mistake as Seattle is its most popular and populated city, close to 60 percent of residents live in the Seattle metropolitan area.
Finally, after several blue backgrounds, we get a pleasant surprise with Washington’s state flag is green! And at its center is the state’s seal featuring the one and only, President George Washington. The State Seal is composed of a bust of the first American president, on an “oriental blue” background, and is encircled by the words “The Seal of the State of Washington” on a yellow background with “1889” at the bottom, the year Washington achieved statehood.
Because the State Seal appears on both sides of the flag, it is one of the most expensive ones to produce. The Washington State Flag is also the only flag with a green field and a person, much less an American president. Name a more iconic seal! (We’ll wait).

If you love camping you can never go wrong with West Virginia as nearly 75 percent of the state is covered by natural forests. Get your tents and marshmallows ready.
On June 20, 1863, West Virginia broke away from the state of Virginia and joined the Union as an independent state. Later that year, the legislature adopted an official State Seal, which is the central part of the West Virginia Coat of Arms and eventually became the most prominent feature of the state flag.
The State Seal pictures a boulder flanked by two men- one a farmer and the other a miner- which represent the state’s two major industries, agriculture and mining. On the boulder, the date “June 20, 1863” is displayed. Two crossed rifles lay in front of the men and boulder, and a red liberty cap, a symbol of freedom, rests on top of the rifles.
Below is a red ribbon with the state motto: “Montani Semper Liberi” Latin for “Mountaineers are always free”. Above the seal floats a red ribbon with the words “State of West Virginia” and encircled by a wreath of “great laurel,” the state flower. What a powerful flag!

If you love ice cream then you have something in common with Wisconsinites, as they consumed nearly 21 million gallons of ice cream produced.
Despite their love for the frozen desert, they decided to leave it off the state flag. Instead, it includes the state coat of arms—which is literally jam-packed with symbolism. The flag design features the state motto “Forward” at the top and just below it, is the state animal, the badger.
The state seal in the center of the blue field has a sailor and a miner flank supporting it on either side. They represent the industrious state’s citizens who work the land and in the sea. The shield itself has four quadrants, each bearing symbols that describe the state’s main industries: Navigation (the anchor), Mining (the pick and shovel), Agriculture (the plow) and Manufacturing (the arm and hammer). The cornucopia and lead below the seal are said to highlight the state’s farm products and minerals.
In 1979 the flag was amended to include the name of the state “Wisconsin”, as well as the date of statehood “1848” when it became the 30th state to be admitted to the Union.

Wyoming may not come to mind when you think of the “island life” but did you know that there are 32 named islands in the state’s territory?!
The Wyoming State Flag was designed by 24-year-old Verna Keays, as part of a contest in 1916. Its navy blue base is framed with a red (outer) and white (inner) border symbolizing the blood of the pioneers and Native Americans, and purity. In the heart of the flag appears a silhouette of an American bison, and on its side, as though branded, is Wyoming’s state’s seal.
The seal features a draped figure, likely lady Liberty, holding a staff with a banner that reads, “Equal Rights.” This is fitting, as Wyoming was the first U.S. territory to grant women the right to vote. On either side of the women are two male figures that represent the livestock and mining industries.

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