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There have been 27 official versions of the American flag

When it comes to the American flag, it’s not just about 13 stripes and 50 stars — the number 27 also has an important meaning. That’s how many different versions of Old Glory have been officially recognized since the nation began. The inaugural 13-star, 13-stripe flag was approved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, and later underwent an update in May 1795. That redesign — due to Vermont and Kentucky joining the Union — featured 15 stars and 15 stripes. While the number of stripes initially continued to increase as more states were admitted, the government reverted back to 13 stripes in 1818, representing the original 13 colonies, and let the stars represent the number of states instead. The current and 27th official design was adopted on July 4, 1960, after Hawaii’s admission into the United States. It is the only version in U.S. history to remain unchanged for more than 50 years.

Though there have been 27 official versions of the flag, there have also been some well-known yet unofficial variations. Among these is the Grand Union, the flag of the Revolutionary-era Continental Army, first raised in 1776 at the command of George Washington and featuring a 13-stripe design coupled with the Union Jack in place of where the stars now sit. Just a few years later, in 1789, a 13-stripe, 12-star layout that predated Rhode Island ratifying the Constitution was flown; it’s now considered one of the rarest unofficial flags ever, and only one example is thought to still exist. A 39-star flagwas mass-produced around 1875 in anticipation of the Dakotas being admitted as one joint state, but in 1889 — after 14 years of unsanctioned use — the flag became obsolete when Congress decided to split the Dakotas in two.

THINK TWICE

The current American flag was designed by a high school student

In 1958, at a time when Alaska and Hawaii seemed likely to join the United States, a class at Lancaster High School in Ohio was tasked with creating a show-and-tell project related to American history. One student, Robert G. Heft, decided to make a new 50-star flag, spending 12 hours cutting out and sewing on stars in a pattern that included five rows of six stars and four rows of five stars. Alas, he received a lowly B-. Despite the negative reception, Heft gave the flag to local congressman Walter Moeller, who lived nearby and promised to take Heft’s design to Washington, D.C. That promise paid off in a big way, as two years later Heft received a phone call from President Eisenhower himself. The President informed Heft that his design had been chosen for the new national flag. Heft’s creation was among an estimated 1,500 considered, and though many others featured a near-identical pattern, he ultimately received credit upon the flag’s adoption on July 4, 1960. In the wake of Eisenhower’s decision, Heft’s teacher retroactively raised his grade to an A. 

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