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Who Made The First American Flag?: Uncovering the Truth Behind Betsy Ross And The US Flag

By Jim Forte February 25, 2020

Who Made The First American Flag?: Uncovering the Truth

The claim that Betsy Ross designed the first US flag is known as fact. But who made the first American Flag? Does the recent controversy tell the truth? 

Seven red stripes, six white stripes, thirteen stars representing the thirteen original colonies. That was the simple yet profound design of the original American flag.

If asked who made the first U.S. flag, most Americans would say that Betsy Ross. This claim is taught as and considered to be fact. But is it actually true?

Betsy Ross Cotton Flag

So who made the first American flag? Does the recent controversy over the flag shed more light on the subject? Keep reading to reveal the truth.

The Legend of Betsy Ross

Betsy Ross lived in Pennsylvania during the Revolutionary War. She was closely related by marriage to Colonel George Ross, an influential military man and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

According to her grandson, Colonel Ross, Robert Morris, and George Washington himself approached Betsy about sewing their initial design for the American flag. Also according to her grandson, Betsy made a few suggestions: lay the stars out in a circle instead of lines, and make the stars five-armed instead of six.

None of this was relayed to historians until after Betsy's death. No record or proof of anything exists, which is why it's considered a legend. In 1873, however, the story was adopted as fact into U.S. history curriculum.

To this day, if you Google "Who made the first American flag," Betsy Ross will come up as the main and, usually, only answer.

Current U.S. Controversy

Unless you live under a rock, you've heard of the Colin Kaepernick American flag controversy still alive and well in the U.S.. It was a big deal and it still is because of the conversation it started.

Colin Kaepernick was a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. In 2016, Kaepernick purposely sat down during the national anthem at one of his games; he claimed it was to protest racial injustice and police brutality in America. He knelt during the anthem at each game following.

His actions ignited intense controversy because it so divisively split the country in two: some praised Kaepernick for bringing stark awareness to racial issues, others criticized him for disrespecting the flag, the country, and the military.

Kaepernick lost many fans and gained many new ones. He became the face of racially-charged movements like Black Lives Matter. He left the 49ers in 2017 and wasn't picked up by another team; he is still out of the league.

The controversy, however, did not end with him. The conversation he started continues today and is still a hot-button issue! And it all revolves around Betsy Ross's (alleged) work: the American flag.

Nike's "Betsy Ross Flag" Sneakers

Amidst his sudden popularity, recognizability, and controversy, Kaepernick won a sponsorship with Nike. By doing so, Nike showed their support of Kaepernick's actions and message of social justice.

The ad was simple: a close-up picture of Kaepernick with the words, "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything" written across his face. Then Nike's iconic motto, "Just do it" underneath.

In 2019, Nike designed a sneaker in America's honor, to be released on the 4th of July. The shoes featured the original American flag, or the "Betsy Ross flag": 13 stripes, 13 stars in a circle.

Kaepernick complained to Nike, claiming that the original American flag is offensive. He and others see it as offensive because, to them, it represents the dark era of slavery in the U.S.

As a former professional athlete, celebrity, and well-known activist, his opinion carried great weight to Nike. As one of their spokesmen, it mattered even more.

Even though they had already made, advertised, and shipped the sneakers, Nike pulled them before their release. The "Betsy Ross Flag" sneakers were never sold.

The American Flag

Because of Betsy Ross, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and recent movements like that of Colin Kaepernick, the American flag has many different, deeply-rooted, often controversial meanings.

Everyone has differing opinions on what each flag "means" and doesn't mean. Kaepernick felt strongly enough that the Betsy Ross flag represented the slavery era that he complained to Nike.

Many people feel the same way about the Confederate flag. They would certainly find it offensive for anyone--especially a business or public group--to display the Confederate flag.

Meanwhile, plenty of Americans respect the Confederate flag as a kind of pro-South symbol, rather than pro-slavery. It all depends on perspective and experience, which makes these matters messy.

The great thing about America is the freedom we have to hold and express our personal views, regardless of whether they vary from our neighbor's. No matter what your opinions are, we have quality flags for you! The Betsy Ross flag, the current American flag, the Confederate flag, and even political flags.

Will We Ever Know Who Made the First American Flag?

As of 2019, we have no concrete evidence to confirm or deny that Betsy Ross made the first American flag. Our current history curriculum is based on her family's reports. No physical records exist.

Is it true that we may never know who made the first American flag? Possibly! But that doesn't take away from the tremendous importance of its design, its meaning, its history, and its future.

The Betsy Ross flag symbolizes freedom for some, slavery for others. It represents the birth of a nation and of a controversial, contentious era. Some people find it a sore subject while others don't think twice about it.

Betsy Ross Flag Collection here.

Check out our many other historical or seasonal flags! We even offer different materials, sizes, looks, and styles. There is something for everyone, no matter your location, experiences, or views.

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