The man credited with designing the current 50 star American flag was Robert G. Heft. He was 17 years old at the time and created the flag design in 1958 as a high school class project while living with his grandparents in Ohio. He received a B− on the project. According to Heft, his history teacher honored their agreement to change his grade to an A after his design was selected.
The basic design of the current flag is specified by 4 U.S.C. § 1; 4 U.S.C. § 2 outlines the addition of new stars to represent new states. The specification gives the following values:
- Hoist (height) of the flag: A = 1.0
- Fly (width) of the flag: B = 1.9
- Hoist (height) of the canton ("union"): C = 0.5385 (A × 7/13, spanning seven stripes)
- Fly (width) of the canton: D = 0.76 (B × 2/5, two-fifths of the flag width)
- E = F = 0.0538 (C/10, One-tenth of the height of the canton)
- G = H = 0.0633 (D/12, One twelfth of the width of the canton)
- Diameter of star: K = 0.0616 (L × 4/5, four-fifths of the stripe width, the calculation only gives 0.0616 if L is first rounded to 0.077)
- Width of stripe: L = 0.0769 (A/13, One thirteenth of the flag height)
These specifications are contained in an executive order which, strictly speaking, governs only flags made for or by the U.S. federal government. In practice, most U.S. national flags available for sale to the public have a different width-to-height ratio; common sizes are 2 × 3 ft. or 4 × 6 ft. (flag ratio 1.5), 2.5 × 4 ft. or 5 × 8 ft. (1.6), or 3 × 5 ft. or 6 × 10 ft. (1.667). Even flags flown over the U.S. Capitol for sale to the public through Representatives or Senators are provided in these sizes. Flags that are made to the prescribed 1.9 ratio are often referred to as "G-spec" (for "government specification") flags.
The exact red, white, and blue colors to be used in the flag are specified with reference to the CAUS Standard Color Reference of America, 10th edition. Specifically, the colors are "White", "Old Glory Red", and "Old Glory Blue". The CIE coordinates for the colors of the 9th edition of the Standard Color Card were formally specified in JOSA in 1946. These colors form the standard for cloth, and there is no perfect way to convert them to RGB for display on screen or CMYK for printing. The "relative" coordinates in the following table were found by scaling the luminous reflectance relative to the flag's "white".
Traditionally, the flag may be decorated with golden fringe surrounding the perimeter of the flag as long as it does not deface the flag proper. Ceremonial displays of the flag, such as those in parades or on indoor posts, often use fringe to enhance the appearance of the flag.
The first recorded use of fringe on a flag dates from 1835, and the Army used it officially in 1895. No specific law governs the legality of fringe, but a 1925 opinion of the attorney general addresses the use of fringe (and the number of stars) "... is at the discretion of the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy ..." as quoted from footnote in previous volumes of Title 4 of the United States Code law books and is a source for claims that such a flag is a military ensign not civilian. However, according to the Army Institute of Heraldry, which has official custody of the flag designs and makes any change ordered, there are no implications of symbolism in the use of fringe. Several federal courts have upheld this conclusion, most recently and forcefully in Colorado v. Drew, a Colorado Court of Appeals judgment that was released in May 2010. Traditionally, the Army and Air Force use a fringed National Color for parade, color guard and indoor display, while the Sea Services (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard) use a fringeless National Color for all occasions.
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