5 Iconic American Flags in History

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American leaders had plenty to worry about in mid-1777, as the 13 colonies battled the British in the American Revolution. They still found it important to adopt a national flag: The Second Continental Congress issued a resolution on June 14, 1777 stating, “The flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” While some Americans began celebrating that date as a holiday in the 1800s, President Woodrow Wilson officially proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day in 1916. One hundred years later, the day is still a source of pride for Americans. Here are a few iconic images of Old Glory from American history.

 

5. First Flag on the Moon

Credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA

Credit: Neil Armstrong/NASA

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin salutes the American flag during the historic Apollo 11 mission. All six Apollo missions that landed on the Moon planted a flag. Remarkably, surveys by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show that five of the six American flags are still standing; Aldrin reported he saw the flag Apollo 11 planted knocked down by engine exhaust as the astronauts left the Moon. But there is a caveat — all those flags have since been bleached white by the Sun’s ultraviolet rays.

 

4. Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders Flag

Credit: National Archives

Credit: National Archives

That’s Col. Theodore Roosevelt (center, wearing glasses) and the 1st Volunteer Cavalry posing with the American flag after prevailing in the Battle of San Juan Hill on July 3, 1898. The battle was a pivotal moment in the Spanish-American War, and fueled the future president’s legend.

 

3. Star-Spangled Banner Flag

Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Credit: Smithsonian National Museum of American History

The flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write the Star-Spangled Banner still inspires visitors to the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Since being donated to the Smithsonian in 1912, the flag has undergone several extensive preservation efforts. The most recent involved detailed information from infrared spectrometry, electron microscope and even an amino acid study. The flag is currently displayed in low lighting similar to what Key witnessed that morning of Sept. 14, 1814 after the British shelled Fort McHenry.

 

2. Flag at Ground Zero

Credit: Thomas E. Franklin/© The Record

Credit: Thomas E. Franklin/© The Record

As Americans reeled from the attacks of 9/11, three firefighters raised this flag at Ground Zero around 5 p.m. that day. Thomas E. Franklin of The Record in Bergen County, N.J., captured this image using a telephoto lens from about 150 yards away. George Johnson (left), Dan McWilliams (center) and Billy Eisengrein are the firefighters raising the flag. Unfortunately, the flag has since been lost. But that flag, and the moment it represented, left a profound message. As Rudolph Guliani, New York City’s mayor at the time, told CNN, “That was the moment on which, these three firefighters, speaking for all New Yorkers — and all Americans — said: ‘Enough is enough. We’re going to fight back.’”

 

1. Iwo Jima Flag

Joe Rosenthal's photo of soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima is one of the most reproduced images in history.

Credit: Joe Rosenthal/AP

Photographer Joe Rosenthal’s iconic image of U.S. Marines and a Navy corpsman raising the American flag during the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945 is hailed as one of the most famous photos in history. Sadly, three of the men were killed in fighting on the island. The flag pictured, along with an earlier flag raised at the same site on Mount Suribachi, are stored in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Fittingly, that image inspired the design of the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington.

 

One More: Washington Shown With Non-Existent Flag

Credit: Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

Credit: Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze

German-American artist Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze painted this iconic image in 1851. It’s a wonderful, heroic depiction of Gen. George Washington and his troops crossing the frozen Delaware River on Christmas night, 1776, to surprise enemy forces in the Battle of Trenton. That’s Lt. James Monroe, a future U.S. president, holding the flag. There’s one problem with that flag: Monroe is holding the original “Stars and Stripes” flag of the United States, which would not exist until June 14, 1777, six months later.

 

And Another: Three Flags

© Whitney Museum of Art

© Whitney Museum of Art

American artist Jasper Johns did several works that involved the U.S. flag, all inspired by a dream he had in 1954. His most unusual work, Three Flags (1958), has a three-dimensional appearance; Johns created the illusion by painting each successive flag about 25 percent smaller than the flag below. New York City’s Whitney Museum of Art acquired the Three Flags for $1 million in 1980. It is on display today in the museum.

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The author is a longtime professional journalist who has interviewed everyone from presidential contenders to hall of fame athletes to rock ‘n’ roll legends while covering politics, sports, and other topics for both local and national publications and websites. His latest passions are history, geography and travel. He’s traveled extensively around the United States seeking out the hidden wonders of the country.