Founding Figures

Running through history of USA’s flag, pledge, salute and their creators

Olivia Torrez, Co-Editor-in-Chief

The door to the shop creaked open, a woman peeking her head out to make sure no one else was around before sneaking three men into the back parlor. In hushed tones the men showed her a design: 13 red and white stripes and 13 six-pointed stars. Upon asking if she could sew the flag for them, Betsy Ross is famously said to have replied, “I do not know, but I will try.”

But this is all speculation. Despite commonly being taught as the true story, there is no written or physical proof that Ross was the first person to sew the American flag, just a seamstress who had been commissioned by Washington for bed hangings who went on to serve the federal government as a flag maker for 50 years.

Predating the stars and stripes we know today, the very first American flag is commonly known as The Grand Union Flag. According to the US District Court of Puerto Rico, it was  first flown on Dec. 3, 1775 by a Continental Navy lieutenant named John Paul Jones.

Its design consists of the familiar 13 stripes, but lacks the stars. Instead, it has the British Union flag and is commonly acknowledged as the first US flag in a number of displays.

But despite having an official flag for 117 years and being officially recognized as a country for 109, we didn’t have a Pledge of Allegiance until 1892, something that author Francis Bellamy set out to fix.

According to an article in the Smithsonian Magazine by Amy Crawford, the whole process started as something of a marketing scheme. The Companion, the country’s largest circulation magazine where Bellamy had worked for two years, was offering US flags to those who sold subscriptions. 

In conjunction with Christopher Columbus’s 400th anniversary of landing in the Americas, the magazine planned to raise the flag “over every Public School from the Atlantic to the Pacific” with a matching oath.

For the most part, they got their wish. As we all know, schools across the country still recite it daily, just not the same one originally penned 131 years ago.

Over the years, the pledge evolved alongside the country. It underwent its last alteration in 1954, which saw the addition of the words “under God,” to create the 31 word pledge we say today.

Yet the words aren’t recited alone. Along with our new pledge, there was also a new salute.

The Bellamy salute, despite the name, wasn’t actually created by Bellamy. James B. Upham created it in the same year to go alongside Bellamy’s pledge.

The original salute was  palm-out and pointing towards the flag, inspired by the ancient Romans who are believed to have greeted each other with a similar gesture. However, this was changed drastically during World War II, as  Italian fascists and Nazi Germans adopted a very similar salute.

In 1942, it was officially changed to the hand-over-heart salute when congress amended the United States Flag Code, which establishes advisory rules for display and care of the flag.

So, with all the history laid out, one question remains: should we stick with the notions and ideas of people who lived over 130 years ago when the world was a wildly different place, or is it time for an upgrade?

That, reader, is up to you to decide. Ross, Bellamy, and all the other founders of figures still significant today had no idea what their country would eventually evolve into, but they did place their trust in the people of said country to uphold the ideologies that spoke to their hearts.

It is up to us to decide if their ideologies, and the symbols that represent them, are still relevant today– or if the founding figures words are due for a rewrite.