History Behind the Flag Pin

Home » Resources » History Behind the Flag Pin

Flag Pin made by Monterey CompanyThe American Flag Pin’s story has gone down in history as one of the best.

The American flag pin is a common sight in the USA. It can be seen on nearly every politician across the country, and often even on people who have no involvement in politics. The exact origin of the flag pin is somewhat difficult to pinpoint, as it has gone through peaks in popularity at different points in time and does not appear to have been introduced until long after standard lapel pins were already in use. Still, we have to start somewhere, and where better than with the flag that inspired it.

The American Flag

An even more common sight than flag pins, the American flag is cherished by citizens as a symbol of all that this country stands for liberty, equality, social mobility, etc. A drive through any neighborhood will turn up at least one house flying the flag. It is a tradition that goes back to the founding of the USA. Or so many people believe.  In fact, America’s love affair with its flag did not begin until much later.  In the popular imagination, during the Revolutionary War, the stars and stripes were proudly displayed by all American rebels, whether decorating George Washington’s boat while crossing the Delaware (which occurred before that flag design was even adopted) or flapping in the breeze in front of various storefronts. These types of images are all very unlikely.  Few private citizens owned flags at this time. For the most part, only military and government institutions owned flags. Furthermore, the design of stars and stripes was not settled until 1777. Before then a variety of flags that would be unrecognizable today were used to represent the rebelling colonies. For instance, at the battle of Bunker Hill, Americans flew the New England Flag, which featured a blue background and a white field in the upper-left corner divided by the red cross of St. George. The stars and stripes flag first came into widespread usage among citizens during the Civil War. Confederates won many of the early battles of the Civil War, leading Northerners to fly the flag as a sign of both pride and solidarity.

Evolution of Flag Pins

Interestingly, the lapel pin came out around the same time that average citizens started flying the flag as a symbol of patriotism. Despite the proximity of the two developments, however, the lapel pin was not emblazoned with an image of the flag or used by ordinary citizens. The pin was originally conceived during the Civil War as a means of distinguishing different units. This organizational marker had an unintended effect, though it increased solidarity among members of the same unit by outfitting them with a distinct symbol that represented only their unit.

Lapel Pins in Politics

The flag lapel pin first reached its current prominence during the cultural wars between the counterculture’ and silent majority’ of the 1960s and 70s.  Some anti-Vietnam protestors adopted the use of the flag as an image, such as Abbie Hoffmann, who donned a shirt made out of an American flag, and other protestors who sewed the flag to the seat of their pants.  As a response, many Republican politicians began wearing American flag lapels.  It became ingrained in the public’s mind when Richard Nixon began wearing the flag lapel pin and demanded that all of his aides do so as well, inspired by the Robert Redford movie, The Candidate.

patriotic flag lapel pin with September 11
Patriotic Pins

The lapel pin’s popularity has gone through a couple of spikes since.  They sold very well during the Gulf War but then disappeared for a while.  They are still important symbols of patriotism, as demonstrated by recent events.  After 9/11, George W. Bush, probably inspired by Nixon, began wearing the flag pin and requested all his aides do so also.  A large number of Fox News anchors followed suit, along with politicians across the country (Republican and Democrat alike).  In a highly controversial move, ABC prohibited its reporters and anchors from wearing the flag lapel pins, citing a desire to maintain its perception as an objective source of information as well as concerns about the safety of its reporters (claiming that sporting the American flag could cause reporters to be perceived as mouthpieces for the American government, which could place American reporters in foreign countries in serious danger).  It should be noted that the ban on American flag lapel pins was already in place long before the sudden surge in the popularity of flag lapel pins.

The lapel pin went through its most recent media blitz during the 2008 presidential race, when debate moderator Charlie Gibson asked then-contender Barack Obama why he was not wearing a flag lapel pin.  He responded that he felt a person’s patriotism should be expressed through their actions rather than what they are wearing.  The issue became so controversial that Obama resumed wearing them shortly thereafter. Since then, he can now be seen donning a custom patriotic lapel pin every day.

crossing canadian flag pinsUSA & Canadian Flag Pins

The U.S. Flag is always displayed at half-staff, or half-mast, as a sign of respect or mourning. Traditionally, the flag is flown at half-mast during Memorial Day, the first Monday in May, to honor fallen U.S. servicemen and women. The flag is flown from dawn (first light) until dusk (last light) on that day. To properly fly the U.S. flag at half-staff, the protocol is to first hoist it briskly to full staff, and then reverently (slowly) lower it to half-staff. Similarly, when the flag is lowered at the end of the day, it is first hoisted briskly to full staff, and then lowered reverently to the base of the flagpole.

Federal guidelines state that the U.S. flag should be flown at half-staff on these dates:star shaped flag pin

May 15: Peace Officers Memorial Day
May 26 (last Monday in May) Memorial Day (until noon)
July 27 Korean War Veterans Day
September 11 Attack on the Twin Towers, Patriots Day
December 7 Pearl Harbor Day

Following the death of a U.S. president or former U.S. president, the U.S. flag is flown half-staff for 30 days. Recently, the death of former president Gerald Ford was marked by flags flown at half-mast around the country and around the world. In addition, the flag is flown at half-staff for 10 days following the death of a U.S. Vice President, Supreme Court Justice or Speaker of the House of Representatives.

In addition, the flag is flown at half-mast the day after the death of a U.S. senator, congressman, territorial delegate or the resident commissioner of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

The Monterey Company, along with most U.S. buildings, will fly their flag at half-mast on Memorial Day (May 26), to commemorate the lives of all of those brave men and women who have died for their country.

National Flag Week pins are spirited, patriotic and super awesome!

On June 14th, 1885, Bernard J. Cigrand, a 19-year-old teacher at Stony Hill School, placed a 10 inch, 38- star flag in a bottle on his desk then star shaped flag pinsassigned essays on the flag and its significance. This assignment coincided with the day that Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the flag of the United States on June 14, 1777. Bernard J Cigrand would go on to campaign for an official Flag Day in which to commemorate this day. Finally, President Wilson, on May 30, 1916, issued a proclamation calling for a nationwide observance of Flag Day.

Last year, President Barack Obama designated the entire week of commemoration, and although Flag Day is not a federal holiday, he had this to say, “Our flag’s journey has been long. It has seen our Nation through war and peace, triumph and tragedy. It flew above the walls of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, at the outset of the Civil War. It stood on Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II. During the Civil Rights Movement, determined protesters on the streets of Selma, Alabama, proudly displayed its colors. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Old Glory flew over the southwestern wall of the Pentagon and the rubble of the World Trade Center.”

It is encouraged that all fly their flags for the entire week and wear their flag pins. “The Stars and Stripes tells our nation’s story and embodies its highest ideals. Its display reminds us of America’s promise and guides us toward a brighter tomorrow,” Obama said.

Celebrating this observance can take many forms. Flying flags from the front entrance of a home, an office or other institution are one manner. Small flags on stands can be placed on counters, desks and window sills and, of course, the flag pin can be worn. Every day of the week, on whatever you are wearing, a flag pin can be worn to celebrate this symbol of what the nation is and has been.

Here at The Monterey Company, we recommend taking it all a step further by flying your flags and wearing your pins all the way through to Independence Day!