There are many myths about the origin of the U.S. flag and the traditions surrounding it. Author Marc Leepson explored some of them in "Flag: An American Biography":
Betsy Ross probably did not sew the first flag, historians say. Ross did not become well known until 100 years after the Revolutionary War, when the first American flag was made. Her last living grandson, William J. Canby, wrote a paper for the Historical Society of Pennsylvania detailing family stories that Ross worked with George Washington in her Philadelphia seamstress shop to design the first flag, and then sewed it. The story captured the popular imagination, but there was never any objective historical evidence to prove it. The actual flagmaker is unknown.
Francis Hopkinson is considered by many historians to be the man most likely to have designed the flag. The Philadelphia-born lawyer was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence and was an artist who designed seals and emblems. He wrote a letter to Congress dated May 25, 1780, that listed the "Flag of the United States of America" as one of several patriotic displays he had created for the government. As payment, he requested "a Quarter Cask of the public Wine."
Mary Young Pickersgill of Baltimore sewed the Star-Spangled Banner, which was raised at Fort McHenry in Baltimore to celebrate the American victory after a 25-hour battle with the British during the War of 1812. The invoice for $405.90, paid by the Army, is on display at the Flag House and Star-Spangled Banner Museum in Baltimore. The 30-by-42-foot banner took several weeks to sew. Each star was two feet in diameter, and Pickersgill had to use the floor of a nearby brewery to lay out the fabric.
Francis Scott Key gave the Fort McHenry banner its name and penned what was to become the national anthem. The prominent Washington lawyer and amateur poet wrote the song after a long night watching the bombardment of the fort.
The lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" were published in a Baltimore newspaper in 1814, but the song did not become popular until the Civil War, when the flag became a widespread patriotic symbol, the book says. Congress considered a bill to make the song the national anthem in 1910, but it took 21 years to pass. Some legislators protested because the tune was borrowed from an English drinking song; others complained that the high notes made it too difficult to sing. Still others worried that the song targeted Britain, which by that time had become an important ally.
On June 14, 1777, Congress passed the first flag resolution: "Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation." There is no written explanation as to why legislators chose the design or the colors. Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, wrote in a 1782 report what he considered the significance of the flag's colors to be. White, he suggested, stands for purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue, vigilance, perseverance and justice.