On June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress of the United States enacted the Flag Act, which adopted the Stars and Stripes as the country’s official banner. America’s earliest flag design featured 13 red and white stripes and 13 white stars on a blue field, representing the original colonies. As subsequent states joined the Union over time, the flag’s arrangement of red, white, and blue stars and stripes kept changing. In 1960, the current design with 50 stars was finally codified—nearly two centuries later—after Hawaii became the 50th state.
The call for an American national holiday to honor the US flag first arose in 1885. But it wasn’t until August 3, 1949, that President Harry Truman issued a proclamation establishing June 14 as National Flag Day by an Act of Congress. Below, we present a few flag-centric items in The Met collection.
Oh Say, Can You See 48 Stars?
Trade card from the “Flag Caramels” series (E15), issued ca. 1910 by the American Caramel Company to promote Flag Caramels. The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection, Gift of Jefferson R. Burdick 314, E15.40
To the Moon!
Buzz Aldrin on the Moon with the American Flag. Neil Armstrong (American, 1930–2012). National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Person in photograph: Buzz Aldrin (American, born 1930). Gelatin silver print, 1969. 7 1/2 × 9 1/2 in. Gift of Mary and Dan Solomon, 2016 2016.796.20
Power to the People
Freedom of Speech. Faith Ringgold (American, 1930). Acrylic and graphite on paper, 1990. 24 x 35 3/4 in. Purchase, Gift of Hyman N. Glickstein, by exchange, 2001 2001.288 2020 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
A Patriotic Table
Pitcher. Greenwood Pottery Company (American, 1861–1933). Made in Trenton, New Jersey, United States. Porcelain, overglaze enamel decoration and gilding, 1868–86. Friends of the American Wing Fund, 1989 1989.219
White Flag. Jasper Johns (American, born 1930). Encaustic, oil, newsprint, and charcoal on canvas, 1955. 78 5/16 x 120 3/4 in. Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace, Reba and Dave Williams, Stephen and Nan Swid, Roy R. and Marie S. Neuberger Foundation Inc., Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation Inc., Paula Cussi, Maria-Gaetana Matisse, The Barnett Newman Foundation, Jane and Robert Carroll, Eliot and Wilson Nolen, Mr. and Mrs. Derald H. Ruttenberg, Ruth and Seymour Klein Foundation Inc., Andrew N. Schiff, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Merrill G. and Emita E. Hastings Foundation, John J. Roche, Molly and Walter Bareiss, Linda and Morton Janklow, Aaron I. Fleischman, and Linford L. Lougheed Gifts, and gifts from friends of the Museum; Kathryn E. Hurd, Denise and Andrew Saul, George A. Hearn, Arthur Hoppock Hearn, Joseph H. Hazen Foundation Purchase, and Cynthia Hazen Polsky and Leon B. Polsky Funds; Mayer Fund; Florene M. Schoenborn Bequest; Gifts of Professor and Mrs. Zevi Scharfstein and Himan Brown, and other gifts, bequests, and funds from various donors, by exchange, 1998. 1998.329 Art ©Jasper Johns/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY
Clutch. American. Wool, straw, plastic, 1940–59. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. Hollis K. Thayer, 1958 2009.300.2454a, b
Coda: Forever in Peace May You Wave
George M. Cohan wrote “You’re a Grand Old Flag” in 1906 for the Broadway musical George Washington, Jr. Here is the song’s rousing chorus, especially appropriate for Flag Day:
You’re a grand old flag
You’re a high-flying flag
And forever in peace may you wave
You’re the emblem of
The land I love
The home of the free and the brave
Ev’ry heart beats true
Under red, white and blue
Where there’s never a boast or brag
But should old acquaintance be forgot
Keep your eye on the grand old flag
On Flag Day—and every day—your Met Store purchase supports the Museum’s collection, study, conservation, and presentation of these and other inspiring treasures, representing 5,000 years of art. Find your favorite patriotic items in The Met Store here.