United States Flag Design Protocol — the 1912 Update

Flag Design Protocol of 1912

Established June 24, 1912

Prior to 1912, the design details of the United States flag (such as number, position, size, or shape of the stars and stripes) was left up to the interpretation of the flag maker... About the most complete set of regulations was, "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."

Luckily, President William Howard Taft was having none of that, and he laid down some ground rules.

Executive Order 1556

With some input from the Navy, Taft drafted Executive Order 1556 to tamp down some of the disparity in "official" American flags and really announced the first G-Spec American Flag standards. This is the first step in a series of Executive Orders that would progressively build toward the flag design protocol that we see today; where there are standard civilian sizes and specific government sizes, but complete uniformity in the design and layout of the American flag.

Here is the complete text from EO 1556 (in October of 1912, Taft would update this order with some clarifying remarks in Executive Order 1637).

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It is hereby ordered that all National Flags and Union Jacks for the Department of the Government, with the exception noted under (a), shall conform to the following proportions:

Hoist (width) of Flag -------------- 1
Fly (length) of Flag ---------------- 1.9
Hoist (width) of Union ------------ 713
Fly (length) of Union --------------- .76
Width of each stripe --------------- 113

(a) - Exceptions: The colors carried by troops, and camp colors, shall be the sizes prescribed for the Military Service (Army and Navy).

Limitation of the number and size: With the exception of colors under note (a), the size of flags manufactured or purchased for the Government Department will be limited to those of the following hoists:

(1) - - - 20 feet
(2) - - - 19 feet (standard)
(3) - - - 14.35 feet
(4) - - - 12.19 feet
(5) - - - 10 feet
(6) - - - 8.94 feet
(7) - - - 5.14 feet
(8) - - - 5 feet
(9) - - - 3.52 feet
(10) - - - 2.90 feet
(11) - - - 2.37 feet
(12) - - - 1.31 feet

When in the manufacture of any flag under these specifications the resulting dimensions appear as fractions of an inch, such fractions shall be taken as the nearer inch. In the event of a fraction of one half inch, the whole inch greater shall be adopted.

Union Jacks: The size of the Jack shall be the size of the Union of the National Flag with which it is flown.

Number of Stars: All National Flags having hoist less than five (5) feet, except colors to be carried by troops, and the corresponding Jacks, shall have only thirteen (13) stars in the Union, in order that the identity of the stars may be plainly distinguishable.

Position and size of Stars: The position and size of each star for Unions of forty-eight (48) and thirteen (13) stars, respectively, shall be as indicated on blueprint of a plan which will be furnished to the Departments by the Navy Department. From this plan can be determined the location and size of stars for flags of any dimensions. Extra blueprints of this plan will be furnished upon application to the Navy Department.

Order effective: All National Flags and Union Jacks now on hand or for which contracts have been awarded shall be continued in use until unserviceable, but all those manufactured or purchased for Government use after July 4, 1912 shall conform strictly to the dimensions and proportions herein prescribed.

The color of the field of the President's Flag shall be blue.

Signature of William Howard Taft


June 24, 1912

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You can read Executive Order 1637 here, and see the Navy's 1912 illustrations below.

1912 United States Flag Design Protocol, June 24, with LIBERTY FLAGS, The American Wave®

1912 United States Flag Design Protocol, June 24, with LIBERTY FLAGS, The American Wave®

Keep in mind that, as of this writing, Executive Orders only govern flags made for or by the federal government. Most flags made for the public (including flags flown over the Capitol) have a slightly different height to width ratio. American flags that are made to these exact standards are called "G-Spec" (government specifications) flags.

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