Flag Days exist all around the world, but the United States Flag Day commemorates Congress’s adoption of the 13-stripe, 13-star, red, white, and blue flag on June 14, 1777. The United States Flag Day’s beginnings date back to 1885, when nineteen-year old school teacher Bernard J. Cigrand placed an American flag on his desk and asked his students to write essays about the significance of the Stars and Stripes flag. Cigrand quickly became devoted to spreading the observance of the United States Flag Day nationwide. Finally, on May 30, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson called for national observance of Flag Day. Flag Day became official when President Truman signed an Act of Congress in 1949 that designated National Flag Day as June 14 of each year.
Although Cigrand is often credited with the creation of the United States Flag Day, other people have also contributed to its existence. In 1861, four years before Cigrand’s classroom Flag Day, the book Kansas: A Cyclopedia of State History credited George Morris of Hartford, Connecticut with suggesting the idea for a Flag Day. Hartford, Connecticut actually observed the suggested Flag Day in 1861 as a day for praying for the U.S. Army and the Government.
In 1888, Collier Township, Pennsylvania resident William T. Kerr founded and became the national chairman of the American Flag Day Association of Western Pennsylvania. Kerr led the organization for fifty years and attended President Truman’s signing of the official Flag Day Act in 1949.
In 1889, George Bolch celebrated Flag Day when he was the principal of a free kindergarten. Instead of recognizing Cigrand’s hometown of Waubeka, Wisconsin, as the official birthplace of the United States Flag Day, some recognize Philadelphia as Flag Day’s original city. In 1893, Elizabeth Duane Gillespie, President of the Colonial Dames of Philadelphia, tried to mandate the that all public buildings in Philadelphia fly the American Flag. Pennsylvania became the first state to make Flag Day official when they declared it a legal holiday in 1937.
Flag Day, although not a legal holiday, is celebrated across the country to varying degrees. Government buildings fly the flag at full mast and many towns organize parades, ceremonial flag raisings, and group recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star-Spangled Banner.