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Article: Designing the Stars and Stripes

18th century

Designing the Stars and Stripes

This beautiful new arrival is a 13-Star WWI U.S. Navy Ensign, circa 1907. The flag has 13 stars, even though it was produced in the 20th century, since 13 stars were commonly used on naval ships all the way up through 1916. Since the official American flag changed constantly when new states were admitted, naval ships flew a standardized 13-star flag until the practice was discontinued by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916.

The vibrant flag boasts a 3-2-3-2-3 star pattern, which looks like a diamond of stars surrounded by four corner stars. The pattern is often referred to as the Francis Hopkinson star pattern, rightly named after the pattern’s founder. Most historians credit Hopkinson as the designer of the first American flag, and there are many records concerning Hopkinson, largely due to controversy surrounding his payment for the service. Hopkinson was a patriot, a lawyer, a Congressman from New Jersey, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. In late 1776, Hopkinson was appointed to the Continental Navy Board, which allowed him to devote time to designing the American flag. He submitted a variety of designs to the Continental Congress, to include the design of the first Great Seal and a representation of the American flag with the stars in a 3-2-3-2-3 configuration. The pattern was a derived variation on the Scottish white saltire and the Russian navy flag.

For his design, Hopkinson asked to be paid in "a Quarter Cask of public wine" and later requested $1,440 in Continental paper. Congress, however, refused his many requests for payment. Though Congress agreed that Hopkinson had played a role in the design, they refused to pay him because he "consulted" other men. 


The 3-2-3-2-3 pattern is one of the most popular configurations on 13-star flags. Whether compensated for his work or not, Hopkinson’s design can be seen in examples throughout history. You can own a piece of such history- shop this incredible flag on our website or see it in person in our gallery.

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