The Story of the American Flag Through Stamps

Formalizing a National Flag Day

4-cent 48-Star Flag stamp
The 4-cent 48-Star Flag stamp was issued July 4, 1957.

Inspired by three decades of state and local celebrations, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed June 14 as Flag Day by a Proclamation of the President on May 30, 1916, nearly thirty years after Cigrand began his campaign. Flag Day would continue to be celebrated in various local communities for years afterward.

Finally, on August 3, 1949, President Harry S. Truman would sign an Act of Congress designating June 14 of each year as National Flag Day. Though Cigrand, the “Father” of Flag Day, died in 1932, seventeen years before the act, his legacy remains; to this day, in Waubeka, Wisconsin, his bust graces the National Flag Day Americanism Center.

On July 4, 1957, the Post Office Department issued a 4-cent forty-eight star flag stamp, the first multicolored flag stamp to portray the flag in all its glorious colors of red, white and blue. Controversy rippled through philatelic circles across the country.

Stamp collectors and concerned citizens were aghast. The fact that the stamps had to be cancelled was seen by numerous Americans as disrespectful, and a desecration of the flag. Many angry letter writers cited the American legal code, in which it is prohibited to “reproduce the National Emblem for disloyal or commercial purposes.” This was not the first American flag that had been portrayed on a stamp; it was merely the first multicolored one. Conversely, other stamp collectors were delighted to have such a beautiful stamp commemorating the liberty of the United States. The stamp was meant to serve as a reminder of American’s heritage and hard-won liberty, not as a smear to its most “sacred symbol.”

22-cent Flag over Capitol Dome stamp
The 22-cent Flag Over Capitol Dome stamp was issued March 29, 1985.

Controversy continued to surround postage stamps depicting the American flag. On June 14, 1985, the USPS issued the Flag Over Capitol definitive stamp to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Cigrand’s ‘flag birthday.’ The first day of issue ceremony occurred at the Fireman’s Hall in Waubeka. The reaction to the stamp was mixed. While many felt that Waubeka was a very suitable place for the first release, some of its inhabitants disagreed. Many felt that the stamp had nothing to do at all with Flag Day, Waubeka, or Bernard Cigrand. Nevertheless, the stamp was incredibly popular, with some collectors observing that it was the most handsome definitive the USPS had issued in years.