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The American flag and other national symbols

Get the facts about the U.S. flag and when to fly it at half staff. Learn about other national symbols.

History of the American flag

The flag of the United States is a symbol of freedom before which Americans recite the pledge of allegiance.

The flag's 13 red and white stripes represent the 13 original colonies. Its 50 white stars on a blue background represent the 50 states.

Each of the colors on the flag has a meaning:

  • Red: valor and bravery
  • White: purity and innocence
  • Blue: vigilance, perseverance, and justice

A star is added to the flag when a new state joins the United States. The flag was last modified on July 4, 1960, when Hawaii was incorporated as a state.

Learn more about the evolution of the American flag and its earlier designs.

How to raise the flag

Follow these guidelines to properly display the American flag.

When to fly the flag at half-staff

The American flag flies at half-staff or at half-mast when the country or a state is in mourning. The president, a state governor, or the mayor of the District of Columbia can order flags to fly at half-staff.

In most cases, an American flag flying at half-staff marks one of three observances:

  • The death of a government official, military member, or emergency first responder
  • A national tragedy
  • Memorial Day or another national day of remembrance

The Great Seal

The Great Seal of the United States is a national symbol used in official documents such as treaties and commissions. The final design was approved in 1782 and includes a bald eagle, an olive branch, arrows, a flag-like shield, the motto E Pluribus Unum (which translates to "out of many, one") and a constellation of stars.

Learn more about the Great Seal.

The bald eagle

The bald eagle was designated as the national emblem by the U.S. Congress in 1782. Since then, it can be found on official documents, the presidential flag, the Great Seal, military insignia, and coins and bills. Learn more about the bald eagle.


Find information on historical U.S. documents like the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

LAST UPDATED: December 29, 2023


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