The 50-star American flag has been waving for more than half a century—but it could have looked much different. As early as 1953, people could see the writing on the wall that Alaska and Hawaii were going to be added as the 49th and 50th states. Over a period of six years, more than 3000 people submitted designs, from actual prototypes that were expertly sewn together to construction paper-and-crayon models made by elementary school children.
The winning design came from high school student Robert G. Heft, who created the option as part of a class assignment. He sewed his submission, though he had never picked up a needle and thread before. “I’d watch my mom sew, but I had never sewn,” he later said. “And since making the flag of our country, I’ve never sewn again.”
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His teacher gave him a B-, reasoning that his design, which subtly added two stars to the existing 48-star flag, wasn’t terribly original. Heft wasn’t pleased with the lackluster grade, and when he appealed to his teacher, he was told that if the flag was adopted by Congress, the grade would be changed to an A. Heft figured it was worth a shot, and submitted his homework to his Congressman. Though several other people entered the same design as Heft, his was the one that was officially chosen, probably through sheer persistence: He wrote 21 letters to the White House and called 18 times. President Eisenhower invited Heft to D.C. for an official ceremony adopting the flag on July 4, 1960.
Heft said his teacher was true to his word and changed the grade, despite the fact that the assignment had been completed two years prior.
Though Heft died in 2009, he’s got us covered if more states are added to the union—it’s said he received patents for several other flag designs, including 51-star and 60-star designs.
Here are 10 of the 50-star flags that could have been. You can find more of them at the Eisenhower Presidential Library.