The History of Flag Day
“Resolved that 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.” Thus read the fifth item of the Second Continental Congress’s daily agenda of June 14, 1777. Passage of this resolution that day established Betsy Ross’s stars and stripes as the flag of the new United States of America.
Exactly 108 years later, Bernard Cigrand — a 19-year-old school teacher from Waubeka, Wisconsin — posted a small 38-starred American flag on his desk at the Stony Hill School. The young Cigrand, a student of American history, asked his students to write an essay about what the flag meant to them as a celebration of the flag’s “birthday.” A year later, he published in Chicago’s Argus newspaper his first public proposal to create a national holiday to honor the flag.
So began Bernard Cigrand’s lifelong quest to have the federal government recognize a National Flag Day honoring the flag’s adoption and meaning. Throughout the remaining years of his life, Cigrand published books and articles about the history of the flag and other American emblems.
His dream really began to take shape in 1894 when, on the third Saturday of June, the first general public children’s celebrations of Flag Day in Chicago were simultaneously held in five Chicago-area parks. The celebration caught on around the United States. Flag Day celebrations had become so prevalent that, on May 30, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson penned Proclamation 1335 calling for a nationwide observance of Flag Day on June 14 of each year, thus creating Flag Day. Then, in 1949, the U.S. Congress passed and President Harry Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14 as Flag Day, establishing the day in the United States Code.
Bernard Cigrand’s efforts were not forgotten. On June 14, 2004, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Resolution 622, stating in part that Flag Day originated in Cigrand’s home of Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. The Stony Hill School, where he set his students to writing about what the flag means to them, is today a historic site.