Here’s a word to impress your friends at the next cocktail party: vexillology. It’s the official term for the scientific study of flags—their symbolism, significance, and design.
In the United States, June 14th is celebrated as the birthday of the American flag. If legend is to be believed, one day in May 1776, George Washington approached an upholsterer named Betsy Ross and asked her to sew a flag based on a sketch he kept in his pocket. The Continental Congress was only three months from declaring independence, and they sensed the need for a unifying symbol. Within a month, she gave them the first iteration of the Stars and Stripes.
A little over a year later on June 14th, 1777, the Continental Congress passed the following resolution: “Resolved that the flag of the thirteen United States be Thirteen stripes alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
But flags aren’t just an American tradition, of course. All over the world, flags inspire a sense of belonging. People unite under flags for their countries, businesses, and sports teams. To celebrate Flag Day, we turned to National Geographic’s archives to find our favorite photos of flags.