History of the President's Flag

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Although the 1787 Constitution of the United States designated the President commander in chief of the Army and Navy, it was not until the second half of the 19th century that either service took steps to symbolize that aspect of the President's duties in a suitable flag of command.  In 1858, the Bureau of Navigation's Signals for the Use of the United States Navy provided for the presence of the commander in chief aboard one of his vessels to be signified by hoisting the (U.S.) union jack at the head of the mainmast.  In 1863, the ensign at the main was substituted for the jack, but the jack was reinstated in 1864, the ensign in 1865, the jack again in 1867, and the ensign once more in 1870. This remained the usage until 1882.

President's Flag (Navy), 1882

The first flag designed uniquely for the President's use was introduced by Navy Department General Order 300 of August 9, 1882:  "a blue ground with the coat of arms of the United States in the center."  As illustrated in the Navy's 1882 edition of Flags of Maritime Nations, the eagle was shown all in white, the shield in full color with 13 white stars on the chief and seven red and six white stripes instead of the normal six red and seven white.  The crest took the form of an arc of thirteen white stars above the eagle's head.  President Chester Arthur apparently approved this flag for his use.  Dimensions of the flag were in accordance with other Navy personal flags, the largest size being 10.2 feet by 14.4 feet.

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President's Flag and Color (Army), 1898

By a War Department general order in 1898, the Army introduced its own design for both a Presidential flag and a Presidential color.  The design for both was the same, but the flag was larger and made of bunting to be flown from a fixed pole while the color was silk.  Both were scarlet with the United States coat of arms shown in color on a large dark blue star bordered in white.  The large star was surrounded by 45 small white stars scattered around it, representing the states of the Union (46 after 1907), and another white star in each corner.  When used as a color, this flag measured 4 feet by 6 feet 6 inches and was trimmed with gold and silver bullion fringe, a red, white, and blue cord and tassels, and mounted on a pike topped with a gold spread eagle.


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President's Flag or Standard (Navy), 1899

Sometime between 1885 and 1899, without changing the official description ("a blue ground with the arms of the United States"), the Navy's Presidential flag was altered--at least in printed representations--to use a full color representation of the coat of arms as shown on the new die of the Great Seal of the United States, manufactured by Tiffany and Company for the Department of State in 1885.   The President's flag was also lengthened to a new proportion of 10.2 by 16 feet by the time the 1899 edition of Flags of Maritime Nations was published.  This flag was adopted for certain uses by the Army in 1901 (see below).


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President's Color (Army), 1912

In 1901, President Theodore Roosevelt directed that the Navy version serve as the sole "flag" of the President--that is, the only one hoisted with halyards on a fixed flagpole or aboard ship.  As a result the Army adopted the Navy design for the flag but retained the 1898 design for the color.  On June 24, 1912, however, President Taft issued Executive Order 1556 directing that "the color of the field of the President's Flag shall be blue."  The Army accepted that this order applied to the color as well as the "flag" and  reversed the colors of the field and the large star on the color.  It was now dark blue with a large scarlet star bordered in white.  The same year, two more small stars were added around the central device, bringing the total to 48.


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President's Flag and Color, 1916

By Executive Order 2390 of May 29, 1916, President Wilson ordered the adoption of a single design to be used by both services:  blue with the coat of arms from the Presidential seal (rather than that from the national coat of arms) with a white star in each corner.  The Presidential eagle looked toward the fly, facing the talon with the arrows, rather than toward the hoist like the eagle in the national arms.  The crest was portrayed with the cloud puffs and stars in arcs rather than in a circular pattern.  The eagle, arrows, stars, and clouds were shown in all white, with black stitching for the details; the beak and legs, olive branch, shield, and rays of the crest were shown in color.  The flag was authorized in two sizes:  10.2 by 16 feet and 3.6 by 5.13 feet.  The latter was the standard size for boat flags.  A flag of this same smaller size, made of embroidered silk with gold and silver fringe, red, white, and blue cord and tassels, and gilt spread eagle finial served as the President's color prescribed by the Army.


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The Modern Presidential Flag, 1945-present

In 1945, shortly before his death, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked the War and Navy Departments whether his flag, showing four stars, was still appropriate following the creation of five-star generals and admirals.  Although it was determined that the four stars on civil officials' flags were merely decorative and not an expression of relative military rank--and, in fact, that civil officials do not even have military rank--the revision of the flag went ahead anyway.  On October 25, 1945, President Truman issued Executive Order 9646 making changes to both the flag as well as the Presidential seal and coat of arms.  The most significant changes were:  (1) the substitution of a circle of white stars equal to the number of states surrounding the coat of arms, in lieu of the four stars in the corner; (2) the eagle facing his right, toward the hoist and the talon with the olive branches; (3) showing the coat of arms in the flag in full color instead of primarily in white; and (4) lightening the shade of blue in the chief of the shield.  Appropriately enough, this new flag was first hoisted on October 27, 1945, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt when President Truman went aboard to witness a fleet review in New York City.  Because the order provided that the dimensions be in accordance with military and naval custom, the President's color for ceremonial use ashore has been 4 feet 4 inches by 5 feet 6 inches, in conformance with Army custom, while the flag flown aboard ship, like other personal flags used by the Navy, has the proportions of approximately 7:10, the same as the U.S. union jack.  In practice, the President's flag at sea is now in the single size of 3.60 by 5.13 feet.  Except for the increase in the number of stars from 48 to 49 in 1959 and to 50 in 1960, the Truman design is still in use today, currently as defined by Executive Order 10860 of February 5, 1960.  The fifty-star version is illustrated.


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