In 1958, seventeen-year-old American high school student Robert G. Heft needed to find a good project for his history class. Realizing that his nation might be on the cusp of something important, Heft decided what he would do was address the obvious problem presented by admitting two more states to the then 48-state United States.
Young Heft spent twelve hours (probably the night before the project was due), using a yard stick and his mother’s sewing machine to carefully produce a new American flag design featuring 100 hand-cut stars, fifty on each side of the blue section.
Bleary-eyed, he presented his project to his teacher Mr. Pratt, who promptly awarded him a B-. But young Heft had worked really hard and he wasn’t satisfied with the grade so he complained to his teacher, who sighed and finally agreed that he would give the project an A as soon as Congress accepted Heft’s design as the new American flag.
What was most likely meant as a dismissal, Heft took as a challenge. So in January of 1959, when Alaska became the first new state admitted to the Union since Arizona in 1912, he started to get excited. When later that same year, on August 21, Hawaii became number fifty, Heft held his breath in anticipation. Because he, along with somewhere around 1500 of his fellow citizens (all desperate to improve their history grades), had submitted unsolicited new designs for the flag. President Eisenhower himself called Heft to inform him that his design had been chosen.
It’s a great story, because it’s that of a relatively powerless young person, working hard, taking a chance, and achieving success against the odds. In a way it feels a little like the story of the United States itself.
We Americans love our flag. Mostly, of course, we love what it represents, freedom and sacrifice and that fierce American pride instilled in us at birth. Many of us fly flags at home and we put the stars and stripes on ties and tee shirts and coffee mugs. We hoist our flag on Memorial Day at the end of May in honor of the men and women who have sacrificed to protect all that it represents. We display it again on July 4th, in honor of the original declaration of American attitude.
And thanks to a movement derived from the lesson plans of a creative Wisconsin teacher in 1885, whose school celebrated the flag’s birthday on June 14 (the 108th anniversary of the adoption of the stars and stripes), we now also fly it for Flag Day.
What this means is that in addition to showing our patriotism, we also get to be incredibly lazy. Because from the end of May to the beginning of July, it is perfectly appropriate to feature your stars-and-stripes front door decoration, candy dishes, and knick-knacks. And really, who’s going to say anything if you start at the beginning of May when you finally put the Easter bunnies away, and stretch it until the scarecrows come out in, say, September.
No one. Because you are patriotic. And if they do say anything, then clearly, they are not. If you want to be really
lazy patriotic you might even stretch your flag-themed paraphernalia through Veteran’s Day in November, by which time, it is nearly acceptable to swap it for Christmas decorations. I recommend snowmen because they’ll last you well into Lent.
That, my friends, is how you become the envy of all your neighbors, because you always have such beautiful seasonal decorations in your home, while they can’t seem to find the time for such nonsense. Maybe they just aren’t as thoroughly patriotic as you.
And the best part about all this wonderfully American stuff is that the number of stars doesn’t particularly matter. So if in a few years, there’s a 51st state, your oh-so-starred-and-striped paper-weight should weather the storm just fine.
Of course the flag itself will have to change in that case, but it’s okay because Robert Heft has us covered. He did retrospectively get his A on his project and went on to become a teacher and even served as mayor of his little Ohio town. When he passed away in 2009, Heft also held copyrights to flag designs with fifty-one through sixty stars. Just in case.
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