What is Vexillology?
Five of the Most Interesting State Flags
While the American flag is one of the most well-known symbols in the world, the individual state flags are much less famous despite offering quirky anecdotes to a state’s unique history. With the influences of European powers combined with features that are unmistakably American, each of the 50 flags has a story to tell and symbolizes a state’s place in the union. Here’s a look at five states with the most intriguing backstories for their official state flags.
When the Arizona National Guard was set to compete in the National Rifle Matches in 1910, the team probably didn’t know that the design they chose for the event would turn into the emblem of the state for the next century. Even though Governor Thomas Campbell actually refused to sign the bill to make it the state flag in 1917, the state legislature adopted it anyway and the red, blue, yellow and copper design continues to be the official state flag of Arizona. True to the Spanish influence of the region, the main color scheme is actually borrowed from Spain’s flag, although the thirteen rays of red and yellow represent the thirteen original American colonies.
The prize for the most French-influenced flag in the U.S. goes to Iowa, which only seems an unlikely connection on the surface. Utilizing the vertical blue, white and red French Tricolor as a starting point, Iowa’s flag is a throwback to the days before the Louisiana Purchase, although the bald eagle at the heart of the flag is also distinctly Americana. Originally designed by a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution during WWI, the flag faced some fierce opposition from a Civil War veterans’ organization but was finally officially taken on in 1921.
The Maryland flag looks a bit like the result of Lewis Carroll designing a chess board, although the unique design is also filled with symbolism that points to the complex history of Maryland. Meant as a tribute to George Calvert, better known as Lord Baltimore, the flag combines colored arms of red and white with the black and gold coat of arms that was a symbol of Calvert, who helped to settle the colony back in the early 1600s. Centuries later, Marylanders who fought for the Union Army would identify with the black and gold coat of arms while Confederate fighters picked up the red and white symbol called a Crossland banner. After the Civil War ended, the collaboration of the two distinctly different banners onto the official state flag of Maryland was designed to help bridge any ideological divide that lingered.
Virginia went all the way back to Ancient Rome for the inspiration for the state flag, which showcases a fallen king and the Latin phrase that means “Thus always for tyrants.” Although the phrase was infamously revived by John Wilkes Booth during the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the words were first uttered by the Shakespearean version of Marcus Brutus during the Julius Caesar assassination. Originally designed in 1776 shortly after the American colonies split from King George II, the flag portrays a fictitious Amazon woman pinning down a beaten king, pointing to the self-rule that was central to the Declaration of Independence. Even though the symbol was popular long before the Civil War, it wasn’t made the unofficial state flag until 1861 and was tinkered with over the decades until it was officially adopted in 1950.
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