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Article: 42 Stars: An Unofficial Flag

42 Stars: An Unofficial Flag

One of our most recent new arrivals in the shop is this beautiful 42-star American flag. The 42-star flag celebrates Washington statehood, even though the 42-star flag was not an official flag variant. 

A rapidly growing population in Oregon Territory north of the Columbia River drove the need for a new territory. As a result of the Monticello Convention, U.S. Congress passed legislation to create Washington Territory, signed into law March 2, 1853. Washington Territory originally extended as far as the present day Idaho Panhandle and parts of Montana, absorbing land that was leftover when Oregon became a state.

By 1878, with an ever growing population and desire for the property rights associated with statehood, Washington Territory sought statehood. Representatives assembled and drafted a state constitution in 1878, as was necessary to be made a state. Although it was never officially adopted, the 1878 constitution served as an important framework for Washington state's official constitution that came later in 1889. With a ratified constitution, Washington became the 42nd state to be admitted to the Union on November 11, 1889.

Earlier that same month, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana Territories ratified their own constitutions and were admitted as states. This meant that the American flag’s star count would jump from 38 stars to 42. Flag-makers got started quickly on designing 42-star flags to celebrate the newly formed states. It had been 13 years since the flag had been updated, and even though the stars would not be officially adopted onto the flag until July 4th of the following year, 42-star flags were produced in earnest in order to meet demand. Technically, flagmakers should have stuck to the 38-star flag until July 4, 1890, when the flag would officially be changed. However, a true testament to American capitalism, flag-makers did not want to find themselves behind the curve by producing a flag that would be rendered extinct in eight months. So, from November 11, 1889, through July of the following year, 42-star flags were produced in a variety of star patterns. 

42-Star Hand-sewn American Flag Commemorating Washington Statehood, Circa 1890

However, their production was cut short unexpectedly when Idaho was admitted to the Union on July 3, 1890. Idaho snuck in statehood under the wire, just one day before July 4th when all of the new states would be added to the American flag. Thus, the official star count jumped in 1890 from 38-star to 43-stars. This rendered all of the 42-star flags unofficial. Given the short eight month window when 42-star flags were unofficially produced, Washington statehood flags are desirable and sought-after. 

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