28-Star United States Flag

Symbol of a growing nation

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by Kathryn Siefker, Associate Curator of Exhibition Content

Many Americans have only known one flag their whole lives—the flag that became official on July 4, 1960 after the addition of Hawaii as the 50th state in August 1959. But for generations, the United States flag was an ever-evolving symbol that reflected the growth of the nation.

Initially, there was little to regulate the design of the U.S. flag. The First Flag Resolution adopted on June 14, 1777 stated only that the flag should have 13 stripes alternating red and white, with 13 white stars on a blue field. It said nothing about the shapes of the stars, their arrangements, or proportions. Flag makers improvised on patterns and number of points; even the alternating 13-stripe arrangement was open to interpretation.

After two more states entered the Union, a resolution was passed in 1794 to adopt a 15-star, 15-stripe flag. In 1818, Congress decided to limit the stripes to 13, arranged horizontally, and to add a new star for every new state. Each new flag would become official on the Fourth of July following the previous year's admissions. When Texas became part of the United States in 1845, a 28th star was added to the flag. The 28-star flag became official on July 4, 1846, and was in use for one year before another star was added to represent Iowa.

28-star Great Luminary flag: Since there were no laws in place dictating the pattern of the stars, a variety of 28-star flags exist with different patterns. One unusual 28-star flag, made entirely of cotton, features a "Great Luminary" star pattern—a pattern where the individual stars are grouped to form one larger star.

28–32 star flag: Some 28-star flags were modified over time as new states entered the Union and flag owners chose to update the flag they already had by adding additional stars. This flag began as a 28-star flag, as evidenced by the four rows of evenly numbered stars. The owner then added four additional stars to the blue canton as more states entered the Union: Iowa (December 1846), Wisconsin (May 1848), California (September 1850), and Minnesota (May 1858).

28-star 11-stripe flag: This flag does not conform to any of the limited regulations of flag design that were in place in 1846. Flag stripes had traditionally alternated red and white, and in 1818 Congress set the number of horizontal stripes allowed on the flag to 13. This flag has 11 cotton stripes alternating red, white, and blue. The stars, organized in four precise rows of seven stars, are hand painted on both sides of the fabric. The stars are applied with a shadow effect, which was an intentional effort of the flag maker. 

In 1912, President Taft signed an order that each star would be oriented identically, with one point up. President Eisenhower determined the current design of the flag—nine staggered rows of either five or six stars—on August 21, 1959.

See this and other artifacts on the Interactive Texas Map

28-Star United States Flag Artifact from Austin, Texas
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