Inauguration Day Flags

Discussion in 'US Flag Display' started by Peter Ansoff, Jan 21, 2009.

  1. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    If you watched the presidential inauguration today, you probably noticed the five large US flags on the west front of the Capitol building. The center one was a modern 50-star flag. Flanking it were two 21-star flags, symbolizing President Obama's home state of Illlinois which was the 21st state. (Illinois became a state in December 1818, and the 21st star was added to the flag on July 4th 1819. The 21-star flag was only official for one year; Alabama achieved statehood in December 1819 and the 22nd star was added on the following July 4th.) The outer two were 13-star flags with the stars in a circle. This is popularly known as the "Betsy Ross" flag, although there is not evidence the she ever made a flag like this.

    Attached is a photo of the flags that we flew on our house today. The center is a large (G-Spec) US flag, and the others are the state flags of Hawaii (the president's birthplace) and Illinois.

    Peter Ansoff

    Attached Files:

  2. Thanks for answering that... I had been sitting wondering why there was 21 star flags there! That clears it up nicely!

    Now next thing to wonder about is why those flags have such short star sields.. how they dont even extend a 1/3 of the way down the flag!

    Wonder if they like that very 'stripey' look!
  3. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Actually, this raises some interesting questions. First, is it a standard tradition at presidental inaugurations to display the "admittance flag" of the new president's home state? I just did some quick surfing for images of the two Bush inaugurations, and, while it's hard to tell, it looks a bit like the inside flanking flags might have the 28 stars for Texas.

    Assuming that this is the tradition, what do they do when the president's state was one of several admitted at the same time? For example, New Mexico was the 47th state, but there never was an official 47-star flag, because Arizona was admitted a month later and the flag changed from 46 to 48 on the following 4th of July. If the incoming president were from New Mexico, would they display a flag that never officially existed?

    Also, what would they do if the new president were from one of the original 13 states? Vice-President Biden is from Delaware, which is usually counted as the first state (it really wasn't, but that's another story). If he were ever elected president, would they display one-star flags on the Capitol?

    Peter Ansoff
  4. Yes- this is a good point!

    The 1st thought I have is that they would perhaps display the state flag of said president...
  5. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Some further thoughts on this:

    1. This photo


    of President Clinton's inauguration shows "flanking flags" with 25 stars, which is correct for his state of Arkansas. However, this one:


    from President Reagan's inauguration appears to show no US flags at all -- they are all red-white-red banners like the ones on the far ends of later displays. (Reagan's would presumably have had 31 stars for California). The only intervening inauguration would have been for George H.W. Bush -- can anyone come up with a photo from that day?

    2. As I count it, the last president who would have required a "non-official" flag would have been Carter in 1977. Georgia was the 4th state to ratify the Constitution, but of course there never was a 4-star flag.

    Any more ideas?

    Peter Ansoff
  6. mattsaccount

    mattsaccount Member

    Although I don't have anything to contribute to Peter's questions, I just wanted to comment that I signed up to get a flag flown at the capitol on the 20th, even if it was only for 10 seconds :) I imagine the guy who deals with those requests was busier than usual.
  7. What! m- so they were putting flags up and down the poles all day for people to have them flown for 10 seconds each???? that sounds crazy lol
  8. mattsaccount

    mattsaccount Member

    It turns out that US citizens can contact their senator/representative and ask them to have a flag flown over the capitol for a nominal fee (~$15). There are special poles somewhere around there where they do it. Since they typically have several hundred requests a day, I suspect each flag is probably only "flown" for a few seconds before they take it down and do the next one. It's a bit silly, but they make nice gifts, and I figured that given the historic nature of this particular election it would be neat to get one.

    Just Google "flags flown over capitol" or something like that to find out more, if you're interested.
  9. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    Well, it looks like we have the answer to the question that I posed back in 2009 about the US flags that are displayed on the Capitol for presidential inaugurations. To recap, it seems to have been customary in previous years to display 5 flags: the current US flag in the middle, flanked by two flags with the number of stars representing the new president's state, and two 13-star "Betsy Ross" flags on the outside. I wondered back then what would be done if the president was from one of the 13 original states, which he is in this case. Judging from the photo below, it appears that the inner flags have 13 stars in the grid pattern (which is actually more historically accurate than the circular pattern of the "Betsy Ross" flags). Presumably, this would have been done if the president was from any of the original 13.

    The one remaining question is: what happens when the president's state was admitted as one of two or more during the same year interval? For example, Alabama and Maine were the 22nd and 23rd states, and both of their stars were added to the flag on 4 July 1820. The number of stars jumped from 21 to 23 on that day; there was no 22-star flag. If the president were from Alabama, how many stars would his/her inauguration flag have? Following the precedent of the original 13, I'd guess that they'd use the first version that included a star for Alabama, which would be the 23 star flag.

    (Note that in the photo, the current flag in the central position has not been installed yet.)

  10. This is an interesting thread! I did watch the inorguaration on the BBC channel here in England
    I did notice those 5 flags but I wasn't sure of the significance of the inner 2. It's nice to know what they are by reading this !!

  11. Robin Hickman

    Robin Hickman Well-Known Member

    O M G !!! :eek:


    How have you been Amanda? We (here) haven't heard from you in AGES !

    Just Wondering . . . . .

    Robin Hickman
    "Your Friendly Neighborhood Flag Man"
    Eugene, Oregon, USA

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