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The history of the American flag is rich and complex, with new stars and stripes added as states joined the union. But what did the flag look like before Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959? This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the evolution of the U.S. flag leading up to Hawaii’s statehood.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The U.S. flag had 48 stars arranged in six rows of eight from 1912 to 1959, before Hawaii joined and a 50th star was added. This 48-star flag was the longest-serving version of the U.S. flag in American history.

The Original 13-Star Flag

Before Hawaii became a state, the United States flag had gone through several iterations. One of the earliest versions was known as the Grand Union Flag, which was first hoisted by George Washington on January 1, 1776, at Prospect Hill in Massachusetts. This flag featured 13 alternating red and white stripes, representing the original 13 colonies, and a Union Jack in the canton. It was a symbol of unity and defiance against British rule.

The Grand Union Flag

The Grand Union Flag was an important precursor to the modern American flag, as it represented the early stages of the country’s struggle for independence. While it incorporated the Union Jack, a symbol of British rule, it also featured the 13 stripes that would later become a permanent feature of the U.S. flag. This flag was flown by American forces during the Revolutionary War and served as a symbol of their commitment to freedom.

The Betsy Ross Flag

Another notable flag that preceded Hawaii’s statehood was the Betsy Ross Flag. Legend has it that Betsy Ross, a seamstress from Philadelphia, was commissioned by George Washington to create the first official flag of the United States. The Betsy Ross Flag had 13 stars arranged in a circle on a blue field, representing the 13 colonies. This design became widely accepted and was used from 1777 to 1795.

The Star-Spangled Banner

One of the most iconic flags in American history is the Star-Spangled Banner. This flag, with its distinctive 15 stars and 15 stripes, was famously sewn by Mary Pickersgill in 1813. It flew over Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812 and inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that would later become the national anthem of the United States. The Star-Spangled Banner flag is a symbol of resilience and patriotism, reminding us of the country’s enduring spirit.

For more information on the history of the American flag, you can visit the official website of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History:

Adding Stars and Stripes

Before Hawaii became a state, the U.S. flag went through several changes to accommodate the addition of new states. Let’s take a look at some of these transformations.

Vermont and Kentucky – 15 Stars and 15 Stripes

In 1791, Vermont became the 14th state to join the Union, followed by Kentucky in 1792. This meant that the U.S. flag now had 15 stars and 15 stripes. The flag designers faced a challenge: how to fit more stars on the flag as new states were admitted. They quickly realized that adding a stripe for each new state would make the flag too long and unwieldy. So, they decided to keep the number of stripes at 13 (representing the original 13 colonies) and only add stars for each new state.

The 20 Star Flag

By 1818, the United States had 20 states, and the flag had 20 stars. This design, known as the 20 star flag, had a unique arrangement of stars in the shape of a large star, with the remaining stars placed in the corners. It was a visually striking flag that represented the growing nation.

The Oklahoma Statehood and 48 Star Flag

In 1907, Oklahoma became the 46th state to join the Union. To incorporate the new state, the U.S. flag was redesigned with 46 stars. However, just a year later, in 1908, New Mexico and Arizona were admitted as states, bringing the total number of states to 48. This required yet another redesign of the flag, resulting in the iconic 48 star flag that would represent the United States for over four decades.

These changes to the U.S. flag symbolize the growth and expansion of the United States. Each new star represented another state joining the Union, adding to the diversity and strength of the nation.

Hawaii and the 50 Star Flag

Hawaii’s Long Road to Statehood

Before Hawaii became the 50th state of the United States in 1959, it had a unique relationship with the U.S. flag. Hawaii’s journey to statehood was a long and complex one, shaped by historical events and political negotiations. The islands were first recognized as an independent kingdom in 1843 and had its own flag, which featured a Union Jack in the canton and eight alternating red, white, and blue stripes. However, in 1893, a group of American businessmen and sugar planters overthrew the Hawaiian monarchy and sought annexation by the United States.

The United States formally annexed Hawaii in 1898, and the islands became a U.S. territory. As a result, the U.S. flag flew over Hawaii, but it still had only 45 stars at the time. It wasn’t until 1959 that Hawaii achieved statehood, making it the last state to join the union. This milestone also meant a change in the design of the U.S. flag to incorporate the 50th star.

The 50 Star Flag is Born

The addition of Hawaii as the 50th state of the United States necessitated the creation of a new flag design. The 50-star flag, as we know it today, was officially adopted on July 4th, 1960. It features five rows of alternating five and four stars, with each star representing a state in the union.

The design of the 50-star flag was not without controversy. Various proposals were considered, including designs with stars arranged in a circle, a star-shaped pattern, or even a “star of stars” design. Ultimately, a rectangular grid pattern was chosen to accommodate the 50 stars, providing a balanced and visually appealing arrangement.

Since its adoption, the 50-star flag has become a symbol of unity and pride for the United States. It is a powerful representation of the country’s diversity and the strength that comes from its many states coming together as one.


The history of the U.S. flag is intrinsically tied to the history of the United States itself. Tracing the evolution of the flag from 13 stars to 50 provides insight into the growth of the nation. As more states joined the union, new stars were added to represent their admission. The 48-star flag preceding Hawaii’s statehood in 1959 had the longest tenure of any version of the American flag. But with Hawaii’s inclusion, the current 50-star flag was born – a symbol of a nation that spans the Pacific to the shores of a remote volcanic archipelago.

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