When it comes to the history behind any object, we can never know the truth for certain. While it is likely that Betsy Ross did, in fact, sew the first American flag in the late 1770s, the story we know now is up for debate.
Yet, the objects themselves can reveal some of their history to us when we know what to look for. This is the case with the ever-evolving process of creating American flags.
So, how have American flags evolved? How are the best American flags made today?
Let’s dive deeper into the history of the American flag by looking at the flags of the past and of today. Read on to learn more.
How Were the Earliest American Flags Made?
When we examine the earliest American flags, we come to find the use of four specific fabrics: silk, cotton, wool, and linen. Synthetic fabrics were not yet available and these natural textiles were used depending on factors including availability and the intended purpose of the flag in question.
Silk, an expensive and delicate material, was reserved primarily for the military or for special occasions. Wool bunting was, at the time, the ideal fabric for most American flags, but it wasn’t always easy to procure.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, it wasn’t uncommon for households to sew their own flags. Cotton was the most widely available material for families to access, and so most flags were made from cotton. Cotton, however, was not as durable or sturdy as wool, and therefore didn’t last as long.
Rarely were entire flags made of linen. However, linen was a sturdy material that was often used to create the stars that would be sewn onto the upper left-hand side.
As you can imagine, the earliest American flags were sewn by hand. As a result, you’ll likely notice unique qualities or irregularities when examining the earliest American flags. (Plus, the design wasn’t quite what we see today–the stars were fewer and the arrangement of the design went through a few changes.)
Dying Fabric for Early American Flags
Natural textiles are, initially, the color of the materials used to make them. The materials that were used to create flags ranged from white to off-white and therefore required dying.
Just like Americans at this time didn’t have access to synthetic fabrics, they also did not have access to synthetic dyes. The root of the madder plant or the oils of the female cochineal insect helped to create red fabrics. Indigo or woad plants helped to create blue fabrics.
American Bunting and Lincoln’s Law
Ironically, the wool bunting that many flag makers preferred to use came from England. In other words, Americans would have to import their American flag materials from the very country they’d won their independence from.
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed into law an act that put an end to some of this English importing. The new law proclaimed that flags created for Federal use must be made from American-made bunting.
American Flags of the Modern Era
Fast-forward a few centuries, and making American flags is much easier. With the rise of things like petrochemical-based dyes and modern sewing technology, it’s easy to mass-produce American flags that look far more consistent.
That said, there are still distinct differences in the types of flags we see today. Let’s take a look at the types of fabrics and methods that are used to make modern American flags.
Indoor Decorative Flags
Today, it’s not impossible to find American flags made of synthetically-dyed cotton. In fact, flags designed for indoor display are often made of cotton. This is because cotton creates a desirable look and, when hung indoors, will last for quite a long time.
Indoor decorative flags can be more delicate than flags designed for outdoor use. Oftentimes, the blue square and red and white stripes are made of a single piece of fabric dyed in different colors. The stars are sewn on separately.
The Best American Flags for Outdoor Use
What if you want to fly a flag outdoors? Start by looking for high-quality flag poles for sale. Then, you’ll need a flag that can stand up to the elements for quite a long time.
The best American flags for outdoor use are made of either nylon or polyester. Interestingly enough, polyester is the more expensive option as it is a thicker and more durable material. Nylon, however, is still the material of choice for most American flags.
Why is nylon considered preferable? It has a shinier appearance and it “snaps” in the wind, producing that regal and attention-grabbing look and sound that we want from our high-flying American flags. Plus, modern UV protection and weather protection coatings make nylon more durable than it used to be.
Spotting Cheaply Produced American Flags
A high-quality American flag designed for outdoor use will, like indoor flags, consist of one large piece of dyed fabric with separate stars sewn on. Cheaper American flags are 100% printed onto the same piece of fabric.
You can also spot a cheap American flag by the flag material. Cheap American flags are made of a thin, semi-transparent plastic material. They tend to tear or fade after a short period of time.
Fly the Best American Flags With Pride
The history of our flag is quite legendary and some of the stories we know may, in fact, consist of legends. However, we can learn plenty about the history of the American flag by looking at the flags, themselves. The best American flags will last for months or years, depending on where you keep them and what type of climate they’re facing.
Want to know more about how things are made or how to get the best use out of them? Take a look around as we explore more products, gadgets, and other things worth knowing about.