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The Father of Flag Day

Today’s post comes from Emma Rothberg, an intern in the National Archives History Office in Washington, DC. June 14 marks the annual celebration known as Flag Day. 

On June 14, 1885, Bernard J. Cigrand placed a 10-inch, 38-star flag in a bottle on his desk at the Stony Hill School in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin. The 19-year-old teacher then asked his students to write essays on the flag and its significance to them. This small observance marked the beginning of a long and devoted campaign by Cigrand to bring about national recognition for Flag Day.

In this June 14, 1904, cartoon, Uncle Sam gives a lesson to schoolchildren on the meaning of Flag Day. Holding the American flag in one hand, Uncle Sam explains that the flag has great importance, unlike the Vice Presidency, which he ridicules in a kindly manner. (National Archives Identifier 6010464)

In this June 14, 1904, cartoon, Uncle Sam gives a lesson to schoolchildren on the meaning of Flag Day. Holding the American flag in one hand, Uncle Sam explains that the flag has great importance, unlike the Vice Presidency, which he ridicules in a kindly manner. (National Archives Identifier 6010464)

While many communities celebrated June 14 as Flag Day in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the day was not nationally recognized until 1916. In that year, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation calling for the first nationwide observance of Flag Day.

Later, in 1949, President Harry Truman signed an act of Congress designating June 14 as National Flag Day. The act also requested that the President issue an annual proclamation calling for its observance and for the display of the flag of the United States on all Federal Government buildings.

But why June 14? Cigrand didn’t choose a random summer’s day. He chose this date because on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress approved the design of a national flag by in this resolution:

Resolved, that the Flag of the thirteen United States shall be
thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the Union be
thirteen stars, while on a blue field, representing a new constellation.

Whatever happened to Bernard J. Cigrand? While Cigrand lived to see President Wilson issue a proclamation establishing Flag Day as a national event, he did not live to see the 1949 legislation pass. Cigrand died on May 16, 1932—17 years before President Truman signed the act making June 14 Flag Day throughout the nation.

Soldiers at Fort Monmouth US Army Base in New Jersey fold an oversized American flag during the fort’s Flag Day observance, 06/14/1990. (National Archives Identifier 6702279)

But Cigrand’s efforts as the “Father of Flag Day” were not forgotten. On June 14, 2004, the House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring Cigrand’s role in establishing Flag Day and recognizing that the day originated in Ozaukee County, Wisconsin.

This year President Barack Obama proclaimed June 14, 2014, as Flag Day and the week beginning June 8, 2014, as National Flag Week.

Happy Flag Day!

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Comments

Comment from Quinn
Time June 14, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Very interesting! In the cartoon, what is the significance of the little creature to Uncle Sam’s left?

Jessie Kratz Reply:

The little, bowing figure is the teddy bear. The cartoonist, Clifford Berryman, used the teddy bear in many of his cartoons. It originated from a 1902 incident where President Theodore Roosevelt refused to shoot an old bear during a hunting trip. In his drawings, Berryman transformed the old bear into a cute, cuddly teddy bear representing the President. It not only became a common symbol in Berryman’s cartoons, but gave rise to the popular stuffed teddy bear.