The flag of the United States of America is the symbol of the world's oldest republic.
In 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution that there should be a seal of the new United States of America. They intended this seal to be a symbol of the values that the founding fathers wanted the new nation to embody.
Each of the colors on the Great Seal of the United States had a particular meaning, and these meanings have carried forward to our flag.
The color red represents hardiness and valor. These were the qualities the founding fathers felt the new country needed in order to stand up to the British government. The red in our flag also reminds us of the blood shed by the Sons of Liberty to secure our independence, as well as that shed over the years to preserve our republic.
The color white represents purity and innocence as would befit the birth of a new nation. The white should also remind us of the pure vision and intent of our founding fathers. Even when we falter and become less than that vision, we should look to the white in our flag to remind us to return to the path of purity of purpose.
The color blue symbolizes vigilance, perseverance and justice. Vigilance against those who would do us harm; perseverance in the continuing pursuit of the vision of our country's founding fathers; justice for all Americans regardless of station in life or circumstances of birth, and for people of good will around the world.
Let the blue in our flag also remind you of the virtue of peace. The American Eagle depicted in the Great Seal grips the arrows of war in one talon, but be ever mindful that it carries the olive branch of peace in the other.
Our flag has thirteen stripes, one for each of the original thirteen colonies that rebelled against Great Britain. On the field of blue there are 50 stars in our firmament; one for each of our current 50 states. The number of stars is the only thing that changes on our flag.
The 1777 "Betsy Ross" flag is considered, at least in retrospect, to be the first "official" U.S. Flag. Several flags by several different designers were in use before (and after) the Betsy Ross flag. A popular story which has been passed down through the years tells us that one Betsy Ross sewed the first flag from a pencil sketch drawn by George Washington. That sounds a little too good to be true, and probably isn't.
Our flag has changed 26 times since that first flag, as other states and groups of states have entered the Union. States number 47 and 48 (New Mexico and Arizona) entered the Union in 1912 and there were no more changes to the flag until 1959 when Alaska and Hawaii were added. No version of the flag has lasted longer than the current 50-star flag.
A list of the dates each state entered the Union appears below. Each of the 50 sovereign states also has its own flag.