America’s national color palette has been set since 1818, when a law was passed requiring the American flag to sport 13 alternating red and white horizontal stripes—one for each of the original colonies—and a white star for each state on a blue field. Every time the United States admitted another state, a new star was added to the flag and a new pattern was needed.
Shortly after President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office in 1953, his administration began to plan for the eventual admission of Alaska and Hawaii as the 49th and 50th states. One of the smaller details requiring attention was how adding two new white stars might alter the design of the existing United States flag. This challenge evidently captured the public’s imagination.
During the 1950s, more than 3,000 Americans mailed unsolicited designs for a 50-state flag to the White House, Congress and federal agencies. The submissions ranged from crayon sketches by schoolchildren to hand-sewn mock-ups. While they were certainly creative, many of these proposed flags did not follow the rules set by the 1818 law. A commission of military and civilian personnel appointed by Eisenhower reviewed the crowdsourced proposals along with government-developed ideas to find the winning candidate: a flag with five rows of six stars staggered with four rows of five stars.
The current American flag, which is the longest-tenured banner in American history, was officially raised for the first time on the Fourth of July in 1960 at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the “Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812. While the 50-star flag looks very similar to its predecessors, had any of these 10 proposals in the archives of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum been selected, Old Glory would have looked far different.
This submission would have not only radically altered the flag, it would have run afoul of the law by sporting two extra white stripes and blue stars on a white background. The design featured four stars in the corners representing President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms as well as a piece of poetry along the top and bottom: “From the state that is large, to the one that is small/All fifty offer peace and goodwill to one and to all.” Two stars in the middle represent the largest and smallest states in the country.
While the flag was required to have white stars on a blue field, there were no stipulations that the stars should be arranged in rows or in any particular pattern. Some early military flags featured the individual stars in a larger star pattern or encompassing a bald eagle. This proposed design incorporated both those ideas.
More branding logo than flag proposal, this submission by Gertrude Brofman was designed by her brother. It featured the letters “USA” inside a star, and whichever way the design is turned it always reads “USA.”
Philip C. Brown of Fallbrook, California, submitted these nine different patterns for the 50 white stars that included rows and circles. The Veterans of Foreign Wars endorsed a circle of stars, which represented unbroken unity, ringing a large star, which stood for “the polar star of Divine Guidance in the affairs of our nation.”
This colored drawing from Estell Arthur Owens arranged the flag’s stars to spell out 1776, which was not only the year of the Declaration of Independence but the year in which Betsy Ross supposedly sewed the first “stars and stripes” version of the American flag at the request of Continental Army General George Washington.
This version of the American flag would have appealed to geography junkies with 48 stars located inside a map of the continental United States in the approximate locations of each state capital. Since Alaska and Hawaii were not depicted, two stars representing Juneau and Honolulu were placed atop the map.
This painted submission depicts the white stars spelling out the country’s initials: “USA.”
Although drawn with inverse colors for better visibility, this proposal from 17-year-old Julie Herting of Teaneck, New Jersey, featured a ring of white stars on a blue field surrounding a hand holding a white torch and red flame aloft.
This straightforward design places eight stars in six rows with the two remaining stars flanking the official motto of the United States: “In God We Trust.”
This submission features the 50 white stars arranged in three concentric circles.