Why Does the American Flag Have 50 Stars and 13 Stripes?

1818 United States Flag Design, with LIBERTY FLAGS, The American Wave®
20 Star Historic U.S. Flag, est. 1818

Established April 4, 1818

To understand why the American flag has 50 stars and 13 stripes, we have to travel back in time to 1818, when the 15th Congress of the United States was in session.

In April of 1818, Congress passed the Flag Act of 1818. This act established three long-standing, important, and stabilizing tenets.

  1. The number of stripes will be 13, alternating red and white.
  2. The number of stars will be equal to the number of states in the Union.
  3. The effective date of any new version of the U.S. Flag will be the July 4th following a new state's admission.

American Flags Prior to 1818

Before 1818, there were only two versions of official U.S. flags. The first is the 13-star, 13-stripe version that is often referred to as the Betsy Ross flag. The second is the 15-star, 15-stripe version that was adopted by Congress and President George Washington in 1794 (recognizing Vermont and Kentucky), better known as the Star Spangled Banner.

However, by 1818 there were already 20 states in the Union, and Congress and President James Monroe needed a solution to the problem of how to recognize the 13 original colonies as well as all of the new states entering the Union... hence the Flag Act of 1818. This is why the 20 Star American flag is so important, as it is the first to recognize Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee; and it is the first to follow this protocol which has lasted all the way to the present.

American Flags Since 1818

Since 1818, there have been 24 more official variations of the United States flag, representing those states that have been admitted in the course of our nation's expansion.

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