General Information

The study of flags is known as velology, deriving from the Latin word for sail.


Flags are generally classified by shape. These are:


Nepal is the only flag whose shape is neither rectangular nor conforms to any of the shapes depicted above.



The American Flag and Etiquette


The American flag (often referred to in military terms as "the colors") consists of thirteen stripes of alternating red and white, which represent the original thirteen colonies. Seven of the stripes are red and six of them white. These run horizontally across the flag. Six stripes cross the entire flag, while the remaining seven of them terminate at a square blue field filled with 50 stars, each representing a state in the union. The result is that the field of blue with its stars is referred to as "the union". The number of stars and the pattern of the stars has changed as new states were added. When Alaska and Hawaii became states, the number for stars went from 48 to 50 and the pattern changed from 5 rows of 8 to alternating rows of six stars (5 rows) with rows of five stars (4 rows).

The early versions had a variety of patterns including this famous one, sometimes called "The Betsy Ross Flag" wherein thirteen stars are arranged in a circular pattern.

Betsy Ross Flag

The pattern results in the flag often being referred to as the "The Stars and Stripes Forever". A famous march by John Phillip Sousa is known by the same name.

Click on the speaker!



Etiquette or manners are non-legal rules for behavior, like walking to the right. It shows courtesy and consideration for other people. Etiquette for the flag involves a set of rules, which are used to show respect to the flag, and the country it represents.

The upper shelf of the exhibit looks at the etiquette involved in displaying the flag. The flag is always displayed with the "Union" on the left as one faces the flag. This is sometimes referred to as the "flag’s right". When hanging from a building, displayed in a window, the union should appear on the left.


How to display flag horizontally

How to display flag vertically


When carried in a procession with several people marching abreast of one another, the flag is always on the flag’s right. If the flag is then to be placed on a stage, it must be placed again on the flag’s right. This means that it is on the audience’s left. This means that the person carrying the flag must cross ahead of the procession to opposite side of the stage in order to display the flag properly.

Flags should be displayed only during daylight hours unless it is well lit, in which case it may constantly displayed.

The positioning of the American when other flags are displayed as well follows specific rules. The diagram here indicates the proper positioning. The gray flag represents the correct position of the United States flag. (Znamierowski 2001 p.46)


How to display flag with other flags

When displayed with other flags, the American flag is always on the flag’s right. If only two flags are displayed with crossed poles, then the staff of American flag must be over the other flag.


When American flags are flown at half-mast, the flag should be raised to the top of the mast and then lowered to the half-mast position. When lowering a flag at half-mast the flag is to be raised to the top of the of the mast and then lowered.


Traditionally, the American flag is folded by halving it along its length, and then halving that. The corner of the flag away from the union is brought up to the edge, and the folding continues making a triangular shape with only the union visible when completed. This shape represents the three cornered hat of the colonists.


When the flag becomes worn, frayed or torn it is considered improper to fly it. The flag should be taken down and destroyed by burning or method, which does not treat it as "refuse".



As the history of this country unfolds from colony to world power, the flags exhibited by the country change along with this growth.

The exhibit shows the following flags as indicators of events in American history.

Cross of St. George

The first English flag flown in North America.

Kings Colors

This is the imposition of the Red Cross of St. George onto the Scottish flag of St. Andrew.

British Red Ensign

Queen Anne’s design for a flag for England and the colonies. The kings colors were placed in the upper corner of a red flag


A flag designed by colonists during the revolution, replacing the Kings Colors with a pine tree, symbolic of New England.


A flag with a warning to the British! This flag was designed by Col. Gadsden of South Carolina.

Grand Union

The colonists adopted this flag with 13 stripes to represent the original thirteen colonies. It kept the Kings Colors still indicating allegiance to England.

Betsy Ross

On the 14th of June in 1777, this flag was adopted by an act of congress as the country’s flag.


This flag was inspired by the victory of an American militia at Bennington, Vt. On August 16, 1777.

The Spangled Banner

Two states joined the Union just before the War of 1812, causing this flag to have 15 stars. It is this flag that inspires the national anthem "The Star Spangled Banner".

Old Glory

This is the current flag of the United States with 13 stripes and 50 stars.





On the second shelf of the exhibit, different flags that are related take primary focus. Those shown are just some of the flag families.

Flags of related states often share some common feature that links them together. The flags shown in the exhibit show two different flag families: the Scandinavian flags of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland, and several of those that bear the British Union Jack, which historically derives from St. George’s Cross, St. Andrew’s Cross and St. Patrick’s cross. (Znamierowski 2001 p. 107)

Flag family: Union Jack based


Pan African Family

Other families include the Pan-African family, which is based on the colors of the Ethiopian flag – green yellow and red. In 1957, a black, 5-pointed star was added to the center of the Ethiopian flag.


Flag family: Pan African based

Flag family: Pan African based

A second important flag was devised by Marcus Garvey in 1917, who created it for the United Negro Improvement Association. This red, black and green flag appears in the exhibit.

Marcus Garvey Flag



Among the countries using the Pan-African colors are Angola, Burkina Faso, Benin, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea B, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, São Tomé, Principe, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Uganda, Zimbabwe



The Pan Arab Family

The Pan-Arab flags use the colors black, green, red and white.

Flag family: Pan Arab


Hijaz (1917-20)


Hijaz (1920-26)

Iraq (1921-24)


Syria (1920)


The white flag and the black flag are ascribed to Mohammed. The white was thought to be inspired by Umayyads, a Quraish family, from which the immediate successors of the prophet came. They ruled from 661-750.

Black, the color of the second flag was associated with the Abbasid dynasty which rules the Muslim empire from 750-1258.

Green is seen as the color of Islam and was the color of yet another important dynasty, Fatimid, who ruled North Africa from 909-1171

The final color – red – was the traditional color of the Hashimites or descendents of Hashim, the great grandfather of the prophet.

In 1911 a group of Arabs decided to design a modern Arabic flag and chose these four colors. The poet Saft al-Din al-Hili wrote:

"White are our deed, black our battles

Green our fields, and red are our knives."

Countries using this flag family are Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Palestine, Somaliland, Sudan, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara and Yemen


Muslim Crescent Family


Another family of flags is the one containing the Muslim Crescent – a crescent moon, often with one or more stars associated with it.

Flag family: Based on Muslim crescent


Among the countries using flags in this family are

Algeria, Anjouan, Azerbaijan, Brunei, Comoros, Johur Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Northern Cyprus, Pakistan, Singapore, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Western Sahara



Flags or banners have been used most commonly as markers of a group of people – often political. The exhibit shows a number of flags, which are organizational, but not involved with political or state boundaries. For example, although countries and states may have their own flags, so do military units, like the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. The Marine Corps flag on exhibit shows the globe and anchor.

In addition, the circle of stars on a blue field represents the European Economic Community. The stars representing the member states the same way that the stars on the American flag represent each of the fifty states.

The third flag in the group is an Afro-American flag, which was designed by Marcus Garvey.

The last flag in the display is the one used to remember Prisoners of War and military personnel Missing in Action.



The last shelf show flags used as signal devices. Occasionally the flag of the United States maybe used, not simply to indicate the country, but distress. This is accomplished by flying the flag upside down.

Special flags have also been used to send messages in semaphore or by using flags with specific letters associated with them.

The flags shown in the case are on a cloth, which comes from the Sunflower – a very large ferryboat in Japan, which travels overnight from Tokyo to Katsu Ura and Shikoku.


Flags used as letters to send messages


Holding flags in specific positions also can be used as a kind of "spelling code".

Positioning of flags to indicate letters


In addition, there is a pencil holder, which is decorated with many of the worlds flags.


Lying on the bottom of the case is the famous "Jolly Roger" or pirate flag, used (hopefully) more for amusement now than an indicator of one’s actual profession!


Finally, there is a small apron decorated with flags from different countries and identifying each with a specific food from that country. If you weren’t able to identify the flags by themselves or from the associated food, here are the answers!

(coffee)(corned beef and cabbage)(won ton)(chocolate)
FranceScotlandItalyUnited Kingdom
(croissant)(haggis)(pizza)(fish & chips)
(tamale)(apple pie)(bratwurst)(sushi)

Flags have also been used to indicate weather conditions. Two red square flags with black centers indicate hurricanes for example.

Flag used to indicate hurricane


The United States Post Office has recently issued a stamp with the flag of the United States on it. A stamp and a commemorative pin are both displayed.


Flags have been used to decorate objects and endow them with the "spirit of the country" raising the level of patriotism. There have been a number of questions raised about "patriotism" and "nationalism", which rest on whether or not these are terms with negative or positive values. Some people see "patriotism" as a love of country, while seeing "nationalism" as a force to make one’s country the most powerful. Patriotism in this sense is seen as positive, while nationalism is seen as negative.

Serious questions can be raised about exactly what is the country, which people rally around. Many Hungarians, for example, claimed to be "patriotic" towards Hungary, but hated the communist regime it was under. What is the country, though, if not its government?

Some people feel the country is an idealized form generated by the country’s constitution. The constitution of a country is always open to interpretation, which often means that different people have different ideas about what the country is, or what it stands for.


THE BACK OF THE CASE –(viewed from the ATMs.)


A world map showing the flags of the countries fills a large portion of the back of the case. The map shows the countries of the world and below are the flags of the various countries


The Star Spangled Banner

Above the world map are copies of the "Star Spangled Banner", and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

The words for the Star Spangled Banner were written by Francis Scott Key who watched ‘through the night" the flag over Ft. McHenry. The flag was seen flying over the fort as the sun set, and all throughout the long night, the explosions from the rockets and bombs lit up the night and showed "that our flag was still there". As the sun rose, Francis Scott key waited anxiously to see if the Fort was still in American hands. He asks, "Oh say can you see, by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming.."

The text is learned so often by rote that many people no longer think about the meaning of the words. They are worth re-reading.

The music, is attributed to John Stafford Smith, is often thought as unsingable – it has a range of 12 notes – an octave and a half. It has been quipped that only a boy whose voice is changing can sing it. The range of the song actually makes a piece of bravura singing!

The Star Spangled Banner was designated the National anthem on March 3, 1931.

The actual flag, which inspired the song, is on display in the Museum of American History (a part of the Smithsonian) in Washington D.C.

The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance and the mischief that followed is a long and interesting story.

The original version of the pledge was rather different from the one we know today. It went:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands- one nation indivisible- with liberty and justice for all."

Francis Bellamy, of a magazine called "The Youth's Companion" wrote those words and had them published on Sept. 8, 1892. They were written for students to say on Oct. 12, 1892, the quadricentennial of Columbus' arrival in the New World.

So the pledge stood until June 14th, 1923 at the first National Flag Conference changed "my flag" to "the Flag of the United States"

The pledge then read:

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States and to the Republic for which it stands- one nation indivisible- with liberty and justice for all."

Although other changes were proposed, none were adopted. For quite some time, it was a school ritual for students to recite the pledge at the beginning of the school day.

In 1942, congress officially recognized the pledge, and a year later the Supreme Court ruled that school children could not be forced to recite it.

Under President Eisenhower, the two words, "under God" were added after "one nation". At the time Eisenhower said "In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource in peace and war."

The pledge then had the form we know today:

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands- one nation under God, indivisible- with liberty and justice for all."

Even at that time, there was some concern that this "religious" addition would produce more problems. And so it did.

Some people felt that the use of "under God" was either offensive to atheists who didn’t want to say it, or indicative of a kind of religious fanaticism. Some people refused to say the entire pledge because of the addition of these words. Schools occasionally tried to force children to say it by holding it was unlawful for them to refuse. The Supreme Court has regularly upheld the people’s right to refuse to say it holding that any pledge or oath taken under duress is meaningless anyway.

At this point about one half of the states have laws encouraging the use of the pledge.


For more information about flags, this bibliography will provide you with a starting point. We especially recommend

Znamierowski’s book,


Crampton, William 1992 Pocket Guide to Flags Crescent Books, NY

Emmerling, Mary Ellisor 1991 Mary Emmerling’s American Country Flags Clarkson Potter, Philadelphia, PA.

Shaw, Carol E. 1994 Flags: A Guide to More Than 200 Flags of the World Running Press, Philadelphia, PA.

Znamierowski, Alfred 2001 The Encyclopedia of Flags A definitive guide to international flags, banners standards and ensigns; Hermes House, London


We would like to thank Alamo Flag at South Street Seaport’s Pier 19 for all their help. Please visit them at their web site www.alamoflag.com