Friday, August 21, 2009

Magic Birthday!!

I remember when I was a kid my sister telling me about magic birthdays. You know, the kind where you turn 13 on the 13th, or 16 on the 16th or, the absolute best, 21 on the 21st? You know what I mean, right?

Well, today, the United States is celebrating a magic birthday of a sort. Fifty years ago today, Aug. 21, 1959, Hawaii became the fiftieth state in the union, meaning for the past 50 years there have been 50 stars on our flag. (You can read the NYT story from that day here.) I would hazard a guess, since I don’t feel like actually checking the fact, most Americans alive today have never lived under any flag other than the one currently flying.

This is, I should point out, the longest period of time (and counting) where Old Glory hasn’t had a facelift. The next longest gap, if you’re interested, was the 48-to-49 gap from Feb. 14, 1912, when Arizona became the 48th state, and Jan. 3, 1959, when Alaska signed up.

The shortest? Well, good of you to ask. Not counting the 17-or-so seconds on Nov. 2, 1889, between the time when President Benjamin Harrison signed the proclamations naming North Dakota and South Dakota the 39th and 40th states (he shuffled the documents and never told anyone which one he signed first), you’d think it was the next six days before Montana became the 41st state on Nov. 8. But you’d be wrong. Three days after Montana’s star was added, Washington became the 42nd state on Nov. 11, 1889.

Perhaps it’s because I’m used to it, but the 50-stared flag just seems…right. Everything just lines up perfectly. Nine rows, five of six and four of five. All nice and diagonal. See:

The 49-star flag, though, for some reason, just seems off. Don’t you think? Something about those gaps at the ends of the rows of stars. It zigs and zags back and forth.

But what about the future? What about this flag? A flag with 51 stars?

Is there a 51st state somewhere down the line? Who knows, but I’m willing to bet I won’t live my whole life under a flag with 50 stars. In case you're one of those folks who likes to plan waaay ahead and worries if you're not prepared, according to Wikipedia, the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry has designs for flags up to 56 stars. (I'm guessing, in no particular order: D.C., Puerto Rico...uh, Alberta, British Columbia, Saska...Saskache... Saskatchewan, and some other place that's easier to spell.*)

Happy Birthday Hawaii!!
*To all my Canadian friends, I'm kidding. I very much respect the Great Bear of the North and am mocking you in a "Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Say no more, eh?" kind of way.


Sebastian said...

You would have to prise those territories from the Queen's cold, dead, blue-blooded fingers!

I liked the much earlier flags with fewer stars and stripes :)

Sebastian said...

Ooh, I like this one:

(And oops, I meant less stars, not less stripes!!)

FoggyDew said...

Seb - As to the first, you're probably right. Although I do remember a book where the plot involved your folks selling Canada to us to pay off WWI debts. 2) There actually was a 15-star 15-strip flag, but they switched back to 13 stripes and just decided to add more stars after they looked at a map and saw how much land we'd taken from the crown. 3) Ahh, the Grand Union flag. Who knows what might have been if they'd just let us have a couple of seats in Parliment?