Old Glory. The Stars and Stripes. The Red, White, and Blue.
No matter the name, the Star-Spangled Banner remains the most recognizable flag in the world. A potent symbol of freedom, hope, and America’s unique history, it deserves special respect.
It’s the inspiration for our national anthem. And countless American soldiers have shed their blood and given their lives in its defense. The flag’s history started with a resolution approved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777.
In the resolution, they declared the flag would have “thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.”
While the number of stars has grown significantly since then, the design they laid out in this resolution remains remarkably similar more than 200 years later. Here’s what you need to know about how to hang a flag and other etiquettes.
American Flag History and Etiquette
As legend has it, the first American flag was designed and sewn by Betsy Ross. Before 1777, however, the American patriots fought under a variety of different banners. These included the yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, featuring a coiled rattlesnake.
Some historians suggest Washington originally fought under the Union Jack. After all, the rebels had yet to develop the concept of the American nation at the onset of the war. Yet, this would have proven confusing to have both sides fly the same flag on the battlefield, hence the introduction of new banners.
It wasn’t until the Civil War era that flying the flag became a regular custom at peoples’ residences. From about 1861 onward, the Union came to celebrate the Red, White, and Blue as a quasi-religious symbol.
During the Civil War, civilians became fervently aware of how many soldiers sacrificed their lives to end slavery and for the right to fly the flag. Of course, it wouldn’t be until the 20th century that a whole American flag etiquette system was born, known as the US Flag Code.
Among the Code’s many rules are guidelines for how citizens should treat Old Glory. These guidelines include placing your right hand over your heart when the flag passes during a parade. You should also do this as it gets raised and lowered,
As for veterans and members of the armed services? They stand at attention while saluting.
Where did these rules originate? They were codified on June 22, 1942, when Congress passed a joint resolution. This resolution would later be amended on December 22, 1942, becoming known as the US Flag Code.
How to Hang a Flag 101
Always treat the flag with respect as an emblem of our nation and its people. It should be honored when on display. To do this, you’ll need to follow a handful of rules.
What’s the proper way to hang the American flag vertically? When you hang the flag on a window, wall, or door, take care that the union (blue section with stars) is oriented to the observer’s left. The same applies when you hang the flag horizontally against a wall.
This etiquette is based on the rule that it must be displayed flat when a flag is not flown. These rules apply for both indoor and outdoor displays. Remember that its folds should flow as freely as possible, as though staffed.
How should the flag get displayed when hanging from a building? The union must sit at the staff’s peak when hung on a staff projecting from the building.
How about a street? When displayed over a roadway, take care that the banner is suspended vertically. The union should face east when flown over a street that’s oriented north/south. If the street points east/west, the union should be directed to the north.
More Tips on Properly Displaying the Flag
If you’ve decided to display the flag behind a platform, it should sit above and behind the speaker. In this case, the union should appear above and to the speaker’s right as they face the audience.
During a funeral, flags are displayed over the caskets of veterans and members of the armed services. When the flag gets draped over a coffin, the union should sit at the head and over the left shoulder.
When in a procession, Old Glory must appear to the right of any other flag. In a line of flags, display it in front of the center of that line.
Never display the flag on a float except from a staff. Don’t drape it over the top, sides, back, or hood of a vehicle.
What’s the proper way to display it from a vehicle? By affixing the staff firmly to the chassis.
Rules for Raising and Lowering the Flag
Are there any rules governing how you hoist and lower the flag? Absolutely.
Always raise the flag briskly. As for lowering it, do so ceremoniously.
How about when you’re hanging the flag at half-mast? Raise it to the peak for a moment before lowering it to the half-staff position. When you lower it for the day, make sure to hoist it to the peak once more before its descent.
While in the half-mast position, the flag should sit one-half the distance between the staff’s bottom and the top. When should flags be flown at half-mast? To commemorate the death of any of the following officers (current or former):
- Vice President
- Chief Justice
- Speaker of the House of Representatives
- Associate Justice of the Supreme Court
- Member of the Cabinet
- President pro tempore of the Senate
- Majority or Minority Leader of the House of Representatives
- Resident Commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
How long should you fly the flag at half-staff? That depends on the office the official held. For example, the flag should hang at half-staff for 30 days when the President or former President passes.
Display it for ten days from the official’s death for Vice Presidents and Chief Justices.
What about for Associate Justices, members of the Cabinet, former Vice Presidents, President pro tempore of the Senate, and Majority/Minority leaders of the House? Keep the flag half-staff from the day of death until interment.
The same goes for the Resident Commissioner from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and state governors.
When and Where Should the Star-Spangled Banner Get Displayed?
The US flag can and should be displayed every day at public and commercial properties. When it comes to peoples’ residences, there are certain days you should fly the flag. These include national holidays and special days such as:
- New Year’s Day
- Inauguration Day
- Martin Luther King, Jr Day
- President’s Day
- Easter Sunday
- Mother’s Day
- Armed Forces Day
- Memorial Day
- Flag Day
- Father’s Day
- The 4th of July
- Labor Day
- Constitution Day
- Columbus Day
- Navy Day
- Veterans Day
- Thanksgiving Day
- Christmas Day
- State holidays or birthdays (dates of admission)
For Memorial Day, fly the flag at half-staff until noon. You should also consider hanging the flag on any day declared by the President of the United States.
As already noted, proudly display your American flag every day at public facilities. For schools, do so during the school year. Polling places should also fly the banner on election days.
Displaying Other Flags with the American Flag
If you’re going to display other flags along with the Red, White, and Blue, follow some additional etiquette. Never fly another flag above the American flag. If they fly at the same level, make sure the Stars and Stripes is to the right of all other flags.
Only at the United Nations headquarters is it permitted for the UN flag to be above the American flag. When displayed with a group of state flags, place Old Glory at the center and highest point.
When using the same halyard to fly multiple flags (e.g., state and city), the American flag must remain at the peak.
As for the flags of other nations? Display them on separate staffs at the same height. But remember, the US flag must be raised first and lowered last.
When displayed with another flag against a wall (both from crossed staffs), place the American flag on the right. Its staff should sit atop the other staff.
What Not to Do With the American Flag
Always treat the American flag and its likeness with the utmost respect. After all, countless people have given their lives in its defense. What’s more, it remains the primary symbol of all we hold dear in our republic.
Never do anything to cheapen or tarnish this vital symbol of our sovereignty and legacy. Examples of what not to do include:
- Displaying the union upside down (except when in dire distress)
- Dipping the flag to anyone, including government officials and the President
- Allowing the flag to touch anything below it, such as water, merchandise, or the ground
- Carrying it horizontally or flat instead of aloft and free
- Using it as a ceiling cover
- Placing something on it
- Using it for advertising purposes
- Displaying it on merchandise such as paper napkins, boxes, handkerchiefs, costumes
- Storing it in a way that could damage, dirty, or tear it
- Displaying the flag overnight
While these sound like straightforward and common sense tips, take care not to inadvertently violate one of these rules. Particularly when it comes to the American flag printed on costumes and other merchandise.
How to Retire and Dispose of an Old Flag
Over time, your flag will become dirty and torn from displaying it. Depending on where you live and the type of weather you receive, this may happen sooner than later. You must pay attention to the condition of your flag.
Quit flying it when its appearance no longer represents a fitting emblem of our nation. When this happens, destroy it in a ceremonious and dignified fashion, preferably by burning it.
What if you can’t or don’t feel comfortable disposing of your flag? Then, contact your local American Legion about the disposal of your Star-Spangled Banner. Most hold annual ceremonies, usually on Flag Day, to retire worn and aged flags.
Besides the American Legion, you could also contact your local Girl Scouts or Boy Scouts office. They may be able to provide flag retiring services.
American Flag Etiquette
You may be surprised by the detailed list of etiquette outlined above when it comes to displaying an American flag. But this US Flag Code ensures that our nation’s symbol gets flown with the utmost respect.
When you consider the sacrifices that those before us have endured to permit and preserve our right to display the Red, White, and Blue, proper care is a small sacrifice. Fortunately, you now have a much better concept of what this etiquette involves.
Now you know the correct way to hang the American flag vertically. You also understand how to hang it from a pole on a building or display it in a parade. In other words, you have the prescribed etiquette for each situation.
We’ve also gone over must-fly flag days as well as essential maintenance and care.
What now? It’s time to explore the wide world of beautiful flag options available so that you can proudly showcase your love of the United States. Shop Flagpole Farms now.
Show Your Patriotic Side With a Flag Display
As we’ve discussed in this article, there are many different ways to show your patriotic side through a flag display. It can be outdoors on a pole or indoors on a wall. Just make sure you adhere to the guidelines for how to hang a flag.
Are you interested in ways to style your home? If so, we’ve got you covered. Browse our blog now for the latest in design trends and how to style your home.