12 Fun Facts About the U.S. Flag

What does Betsy Ross have to do with it? Probably not as much as you learned in history class...
What does Betsy Ross have to do with it? Probably not as much as you learned in history class...
choness/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Flag Day is June 14. If you’re wondering what that date has to do with the Stars and Stripes, why the flag looks the way it does, who came up with it, who paid for it, and what you can and can’t do with it—read on.

1. The modern American flag was prompted by a payment of “three strings of wampum.”

By 1777, the U.S. was in the midst of the Revolutionary War and still waffling on the exact look of its flag. This was a cause for concern for Thomas Green, a Native American who wanted to bring an official flag to his Nation for protection when they visited Philadelphia. Green asked for help from the government, throwing in a payment of three strings of wampum—beads made from shells—to sweeten the deal. Within two weeks, a resolution was passed, finalizing the flag as a creation with 13 stars and 13 stripes. The date: June 14, 1777.

2. Betsy Ross might not be as tied to the American flag as we thought.

She may have sewn quite a few in her day, but there is no actual evidence Betsy Ross was the person responsible for the design of the American flag. In fact, Ross’s name didn’t even come up in conjunction with the deed until the 1870s, more than 30 years after her death. The first person to have publicly claimed design credit was New Jersey’s Francis Hopkinson in 1780, who had hoped (in vain) to earn a "quarter cask of the public wine" for his efforts.

3. The American flag hasn’t always had 13 stripes.

A few years after welcoming Vermont and Kentucky—states 14 and 15—into the union (in 1791 and 1792, respectively), a new version of the flag was created that had 15 stars and 15 stripes. As the U.S. continued to add new states, there was concern about having to continually add additional stripes. The solution: revert to 13 to represent the original 13 colonies, and let the stars do the heavy lifting.

4. Some of the American flag’s star fields have been pretty strange looking.

As of 1818, conventions concerning the numbers of stars and stripes were cemented and remain in place today. However, one thing remained uncodified: star layout. With this lack of official guidelines, some designers got creative. There was the 26-star “star” flag, which configured stars of varying sizes into a star-shaped layout; the 33-star Ft. Sumter flag, which had stars arranged in a layout that looks kind of like one of the aliens from Space Invaders; the 38-star concentric creation, which had stars in concentric circles; and others.

5. The Dakotas threw off the star-design plans for the American flag.

There have been 27 official versions of the U.S. flag, each with a different number of stars. A 39-star version is not among them, but that didn’t stop at least one enterprising flag manufacturer from producing one for the marketplace. The reason for the miscalculation: Some thought North Dakota and South Dakota were going to be admitted as one state.

And there wasn’t even a 40-star version. The Flag Act of 1818 [PDF] specifies that the star addition “shall take effect on the fourth day of July [next.]” Montana, Washington, and Idaho were also admitted before July 4, so we skipped from a 38- to a 43-star flag.

6. The 50-star pattern of the American flag was supposedly designed by a high school student.

When Alaska became state 49, President Dwight Eisenhower received loads of ideas for a new flag, most of them featuring 49 stars (along with suggestions like a dove of peace, eagles, and maps). But—as the story goes—a year before, Robert Heft, a 17-year-old student at Lancaster (Ohio) High, was thinking ahead and guessed Hawaii would be admitted soon after Alaska. For a class project, Heft decided to create a 50-star flag—and got a B- (meanwhile, a friend who had taped five leaves to a notebook got an A).

When Heft complained, the teacher responded that if Heft could get the flag accepted by Washington, he’d change the grade. So Heft sent the flag to his congressman, saying that if a 50-star flag was ever needed, this was a potential option. Eventually, Alaska and Hawaii joined the United States, the congressman remembered he had a flag in reserve, and America got a new flag. Heft later recalled that a month after he graduated, the teacher changed the grade to an A.

7. But not everyone agrees the American flag was designed by Robert Heft.

There are some vexillologists who cast doubt on this version of events, however. They argue it’s possible the Heft story is a kind of modern update of the Betsy Ross tale. David B. Martucci writes in Raven: A Journal of Vexillology that “the official designer is listed as the Army Institute of Heraldry. In fact, by the time Heft submitted his design, the final design probably had already been chosen.” Contemporary newspapers do mention Heft, but not in a “he designed the flag” context. According to a 1960 Lancaster, Ohio, newspaper, “the new 50-star flag [Heft] made was the first 50-star flag owned and flown by an individual in the United States.” It wasn’t until later in the 1960s that papers begin to say that he “designed the official 50-star United States flag.”

8. The 50-star flag is the first American flag to have lasted 50 years.

In contrast, over a 50-year period starting in the early 1800s, the flag went through 17 different versions.

9. The actual American flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” still exists.

The flag that flew at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, immortalized in Francis Scott Key’s poem-turned-anthem, is one of the few remaining specimens of a 15-star, 15-bar flag. What’s left of it is on permanent display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

10. Two snippets of the “Star-Spangled Banner” flag sold at auction in 2011 for $65,000.

We say "what’s left of it" because the flag in question was a victim of "souveniring," a once-common practice where sections from flags were snipped off and sold as mementos. When the Smithsonian was gifted the flag, there was said to be a full 8 feet missing off the end.

11. The flag desecration amendment failed in 2006.

The proposed constitutional amendment stated that "Congress shall have the power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States.” The amendment fell one vote short in the Senate.

12. Burning a flag is OK.

At least, it is as long as the flag is already damaged beyond repair. It’s one way the flag may be disposed of in a “dignified way,” according to the U.S. Flag Code.

Then again, if the U.S. Flag Code got its way, the stars and stripes wouldn’t appear in advertising either.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

10 of the Most Popular Portable Bluetooth Speakers on Amazon

Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon
Altech/Bose/JBL/Amazon

As convenient as smartphones and tablets are, they don’t necessarily offer the best sound quality. But a well-built portable speaker can fill that need. And whether you’re looking for a speaker to use in the shower or a device to take on a long camping trip, these bestselling models from Amazon have you covered.

1. OontZ Angle 3 Bluetooth Portable Speaker; $26-$30 (4.4 stars)

Oontz portable bluetooth speaker
Cambridge Soundworks/Amazon

Of the 57,000-plus reviews that users have left for this speaker on Amazon, 72 percent of them are five stars. So it should come as no surprise that this is currently the best-selling portable Bluetooth speaker on the site. It comes in eight different colors and can play for up to 14 hours straight after a full charge. Plus, it’s splash proof, making it a perfect speaker for the shower, beach, or pool.

Buy it: Amazon

2. JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $110 (4.6 stars)

JBL portable bluetooth speaker
JBL/Amazon

This nifty speaker can connect with up to three devices at one time, so you and your friends can take turns sharing your favorite music. Its built-in battery can play music for up to 20 hours, and it can even charge smartphones and tablets via USB.

Buy it: Amazon

3. Anker Soundcore Bluetooth Speaker; $25-$28 (4.6 stars)

Anker portable bluetooth speaker
Anker/Amazon

This speaker boasts 24-hour battery life and a strong Bluetooth connection within a 66-foot radius. It also comes with a built-in microphone so you can easily take calls over speakerphone.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Bose SoundLink Color Bluetooth Speaker; $129 (4.4 stars)

Bose portable bluetooth speaker
Bose/Amazon

Bose is well-known for building user-friendly products that offer excellent sound quality. This portable speaker lets you connect to the Bose app, which makes it easier to switch between devices and personalize your settings. It’s also water-resistant, making it durable enough to handle a day at the pool or beach.

Buy it: Amazon

5. DOSS Soundbox Touch Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $28-$33 (4.4 stars)

DOSS portable bluetooth speaker
DOSS/Amazon

This portable speaker features an elegant system of touch controls that lets you easily switch between three methods of playing audio—Bluetooth, Micro SD, or auxiliary input. It can play for up to 20 hours after a full charge.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Altec Lansing Mini Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $15-$20 (4.3 stars)

Altec Lansing portable bluetooth speaker
Altec Lansing/Amazon

This lightweight speaker is built for the outdoors. With its certified IP67 rating—meaning that it’s fully waterproof, shockproof, and dust proof—it’s durable enough to withstand harsh environments. Plus, it comes with a carabiner that can attach to a backpack or belt loop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth Speaker; $33-$38 (4.6 stars)

Tribit portable bluetooth speaker
Tribit/Amazon

Tribit’s portable Bluetooth speaker weighs less than a pound and is fully waterproof and resistant to scratches and drops. It also comes with a tear-resistant strap for easy transportation, and the rechargeable battery can handle up to 24 hours of continuous use after a full charge. In 2020, it was Wirecutter's pick as the best budget portable Bluetooth speaker on the market.

Buy it: Amazon

8. VicTsing SoundHot C6 Portable Bluetooth Speaker; $18 (4.3 stars)

VicTsing portable bluetooth speaker
VicTsing/Amazon

The SoundHot portable Bluetooth speaker is designed for convenience wherever you go. It comes with a detachable suction cup and a carabiner so you can keep it secure while you’re showering, kayaking, or hiking, to name just a few.

Buy it: Amazon

9. AOMAIS Sport II Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker; $30 (4.4 stars)

AOMAIS portable bluetooth speaker
AOMAIS/Amazon

This portable speaker is certified to handle deep waters and harsh weather, making it perfect for your next big adventure. It can play for up to 15 hours on a full charge and offers a stable Bluetooth connection within a 100-foot radius.

Buy it: Amazon

10. XLEADER SoundAngel Touch Bluetooth Speaker; $19-$23 (4.4 stars)

XLeader portable bluetooth speaker
XLEADER/Amazon

This stylish device is available in black, silver, gold, and rose gold. Plus, it’s equipped with Bluetooth 5.0, a more powerful technology that can pair with devices up to 800 feet away. The SoundAngel speaker itself isn’t water-resistant, but it comes with a waterproof case for protection in less-than-ideal conditions.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Notre-Dame Cathedral’s New Spire Will Be an Exact Replica of the Old One

This wasn't actually the original spire.
This wasn't actually the original spire.
Michael McCarthy, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Just days after a fire ravaged Notre-Dame de Paris on April 15, 2019, France’s then-prime minister Édouard Philippe announced plans for an international competition to design a new, more modern spire “suited to the techniques and challenges of our time.”

Though not everyone supported the initiative, architects from all over the world made quick work of sharing their innovative ideas. Some imagined spires made from unconventional materials—Brazilian architect Alexandre Fantozzi favored stained glass, for example, and France’s Mathieu Lehanneur designed a flame-shaped spire covered in gold leaf—while others envisioned using the space for something completely different. Sweden’s Ulf Mejergren Architects suggested a rooftop swimming pool, and Studio NAB proposed a greenhouse.

But those architects will have to bring their inventive designs to life elsewhere. As artnet News reports, the French Senate recently passed legislation mandating that the cathedral be restored to its “last known visual state.” President Emmanuel Macron released a statement endorsing the decision and explaining that city officials would look to add a “contemporary gesture” in the “redevelopment of the surroundings of the cathedral” instead.

Though the 800-ton, 305-foot-tall spire was certainly one of Notre-Dame’s most striking features, it wasn’t actually part of the original building. The first spire, constructed between 1220 and 1230, began to deteriorate after several centuries, and it was removed in the late 1700s. The cathedral went spire-less until 1859, when builders completed work on architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc’s new design—which, according to Popular Mechanics, wasn’t an exact replica of the original.

17th-century etching of paris notre-dame cathedral
A 17th-century etching of Notre-Dame with its original spire.
I. Silvestre, Wellcome Images, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 4.0

This event could have set the precedent for updating the spire this time, but it’s possible that government officials were motivated by more than a simple commitment to architectural consistency. Last year, Macron had promised that the restoration would be completed by 2024, when Paris is scheduled to host the Summer Olympics. It’s an ambitious goal, and a worldwide competition to come up with a new design could have delayed the process more than reconstructing the spire as it once was.

[h/t artnet News]