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People use the American flag to express their pride in the United States. Why not do the same with a flag from your favorite state? Many of the different flag designs originated because people wanted to show pride in the state or territory they were currently living in.
The History of American State Flags
The First Unofficial State Flags
The first unofficial state flag to be adopted was from what would become Rhode Island. The Rhode Island territories were founded in 1636 by Roger Williams.
Four years later, in 1640, the Rhode Island territories would have their first unofficial flag. This would remain as the de facto Rhode Island flag throughout the colonial period and the Revolutionary War. It was then formally adopted on November 1, 1897.
The only other state flag adopted before the 1800s was the flag of Maryland. It began as the personal banner of George Calvert, who was given a royal charter to colonize the land that would become Maryland. Calvert’s banner enjoyed an unofficial status as Maryland’s flag from 1632 until 1904, when it was officially adopted.
Flags From the Civil War
Many of the southern states have flag designs that either originated during the Civil War or were based on designs carried by regiments of state troops.
For example, the Alabama flag came from John W.A. Sanford, Jr, who based his design on the battle flag of the 60th Alabama regiment, which he had served with during the Civil War.
The South Carolina flag was adopted in 1861 when South Carolina seceded from the Union. It has remained unchanged to this day.
Virginia’s flag was also adopted in 1861. The current flag, in use since 1950, very closely resembles the original flag that was chosen in the early 1860s.
Louisiana had an unofficial flag that it adopted in January of 1861. A completely new flag was adopted in February of that year. It remained Louisiana’s state flag until 1912, when it was swapped for the current version of the flag.
In this context, Mississippi is a little odd: it had a flag that was used only through the Civil War of 1861 to 1865. Another flag was adopted in 1894: this flag lasted until 2001, when the third and final flag was adopted.
Modern State Flags
Most of the modern US flag designs were adopted between the early 1890s and the start of World War I in 1914.
Examples of this include:
New York, whose flag was adopted on April 1st, 1901.
New Jersey, adopted in 1896.
Pennsylvania, adopted in 1907.
However, there have been at least half a dozen state flags that were adopted much later, including North Dakota (1943) and West Virginia (1929). The latest state flag to be officially adopted was Georgia’s: it was adopted on February 19, 2003.
State Flag Facts
Some fun facts about the different state flags:
New Mexico’s flag was voted the best-designed US state flag in 2001.
Georgia’s flag was voted the worst-designed flag in the same survey.
The reason for most modern flags being adopted in the 1890s was so that states could have distinct symbols for the World’s Columbian Exposition that was being held in Chicago in 1893.