Flags, Symbols and Currency of the United States
Flags, Symbols and Currency of the United States

The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America.

It consists of 50 states, a federal district, five major unincorporated territories, 326 Indian reservations, and some minor possessions. At 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million square kilometers), it is the world's third- or fourth-largest country by total area.

The United States shares significant land borders with Canada to the north and Mexico to the south, as well as limited maritime borders with the Bahamas, Cuba, and Russia. With a population of more than 331 million people, it is the third most populous country in the world. The national capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City.

The United States is a federal republic and a representative democracy with three separate branches of government, including a bicameral legislature. It is a founding member of the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Organization of American States, NATO, and other international organizations. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Considered a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, its population has been profoundly shaped by centuries of immigration. The country ranks high in international measures of economic freedom, quality of life, education, and human rights, and has low levels of perceived corruption. However, the country has received domestic and international criticism concerning inequality related to race, wealth and income, the use of capital punishment, high incarceration rates, and lack of universal health care.

Let’s take a look the history of the United States of America’s flags, symbols and currency.

Flag of the United States of America

national flag consisting of white stars (50 since July 4, 1960) on a blue canton with a field of 13 alternating stripes, 7 red and 6 white. The 50 stars stand for the 50 states of the union, and the 13 stripes stand for the original 13 states. The flag’s width-to-length ratio is 10 to 19. Photo: Britannica
national flag consisting of white stars (50 since July 4, 1960) on a blue canton with a field of 13 alternating stripes, 7 red and 6 white. The 50 stars stand for the 50 states of the union, and the 13 stripes stand for the original 13 states. The flag’s width-to-length ratio is 10 to 19. Photo: Britannica

After the American Revolution began, the first, unofficial national flag—known as the Continental Colours (or, sometimes, as the Grand Union Flag, the Cambridge Flag, the Somerville Flag, or the Union Flag)—was hoisted on a towering 76-foot (23-metre) liberty pole at Prospect Hill in Charlestown (now in Somerville), Massachusetts, on January 1, 1776; it was raised at the behest of Gen. George Washington, whose headquarters were nearby. The flag had 13 horizontal stripes (probably of red and white or of red, white, and blue) and, in the canton, the first version of the British Union Flag (Union Jack). As the flag of the Continental Army, it flew at forts and on naval vessels. Another popular early flag, that of the 1765 Sons of Liberty, had only nine red and white stripes. Various versions of “Don’t Tread on Me” coiled-rattlesnake flags appeared on many 18th-century American colonial banners, including several flown by military units during the Revolutionary War. The version carried by the Minutemen of Culpeper County, Virginia, for example, included not only the rattlesnake and the “Don’t Tread on Me” motto but also Virginia patriot Patrick Henry’s famous words “Liberty or Death.”

Photo: Britannica
Photo: Britannica
  • The first official national flag, formally approved by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777, was the Stars and Stripes. That first Flag Resolution read, in toto, “Resolved, that the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field representing a new constellation.” The layout of the stars was left undefined, and many patterns were used by flag makers. The designer of the flag—most likely Congressman Francis Hopkinson, a signer of the Declaration of Independence from Philadelphia—may have had a ring of stars in mind to symbolize the new constellation.
U.S. flag commonly attributed to Betsy Ross. Photo: Britannica
U.S. flag commonly attributed to Betsy Ross. Photo: Britannica
  • The Stars and Stripes changed on May 1, 1795, when Congress enacted the second Flag Resolution, which mandated that new stars and stripes be added to the flag when new states were admitted to the Union. The first two new states were Vermont (1791) and Kentucky (1792). (One such flag was the 1,260-square-foot [117-square-metre] “Star-Spangled Banner,” made by Mary Pickersgill, that Francis Scott Key saw at Fort McHenry in September 1814, which inspired him to write the patriotic poem that later supplied the lyrics of the national anthem.) In 1818, after five more states had been admitted, Congress enacted the third and last Flag Resolution, requiring that henceforth the number of stripes should remain 13, the number of stars should always match the number of states, and any new star should be added on the July 4 following a state’s admission.
  • During the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America began to use its first flag, the Stars and Bars, on March 5, 1861. Soon after, the first Confederate Battle Flag was also flown. The design of the Stars and Bars varied over the following two years. On May 1, 1863, the Confederacy adopted its first official national flag, often called the Stainless Banner. A modification of that design was adopted on March 4, 1865, about a month before the end of the war.

NUMBER OF STARS IN THE U.S. FLAG, AND ADDITIONAL STATES REPRESENTED 1777 TO PRESENT

Date of Flag

Additional states with date of entry into Union

13 stars - 1777 to 1795

Delaware (December 7, 1787)

Pennsylvania (December 12, 1787)

New Jersey (December 18, 1787)

Georgia (January 2, 1788)

Connecticut (January 9, 1788)

Massachusetts (February 6, 1788)

Maryland (April 28, 1788)

South Carolina (May 23, 1788)

New Hampshire (June 21, 1788)

Virginia (June 25, 1788)

New York (July 26, 1788)

North Carolina (November 21, 1789)

Rhode Island (May 29, 1790)

15 stars - 1795 to 1818

Vermont (March 4, 1791)

Kentucky (June 1, 1792)

20 stars - 1818 to July 3, 1819

Tennessee (June 1, 1796)

Ohio (March 1, 1803)

Louisiana (April 30, 1812)

Indiana (December 11, 1816)

Mississippi (December 10, 1817)

21 stars - July 4, 1819 to July 3, 1820

Illinois (December 3, 1818)

23 stars - July 4, 1820 to July 3, 1822

Alabama (December 14, 1819)

Maine (March 15, 1820)

24 stars - July 4, 1822 to July 3, 1836

Missouri (August 10, 1821)

25 stars - July 4, 1836 to July 3, 1837

Arkansas (June 15, 1836)

26 stars - July 4, 1837 to July 3, 1845

Michigan (Jan 26, 1837)

27 stars - July 4, 1845 to July 3, 1846

Florida (March 3, 1845)

28 stars - July 4, 1846 to July 3, 1847

Texas (December 29, 1845)

29 stars - July 4, 1847 to July 3, 1848

Iowa (December 28, 1846)

30 stars - July 4, 1848 to July 3, 1851

Wisconsin (May 29, 1848)

31 stars - July 4, 1851 to July 3, 1858

California (September 9, 1850)

32 stars - July 4, 1858 to July 3, 1859

Minnesota (May 11, 1858)

33 stars - July 4, 1859 to July 3, 1861

Oregon (February 14, 1859)

34 stars - July 4, 1861 to July 3, 1863

Kansas (January 29, 1861)

35 stars - July 4, 1863 to July 3, 1865

West Virginia (June 20, 1863)

36 stars - July 4, 1865 to July 3, 1867

Nevada (October 31, 1864)

37 stars - July 4, 1867 to July 3, 1877

Nebraska (March 1, 1867)

38 stars - July 4, 1877 to July 3, 1890

Colorado (August 1, 1876)

43 stars - July 4, 1890 to July 3, 1891

North Dakota (November 2, 1889)

South Dakota (November 2, 1889)

Montana (November 8, 1889)

Washington (November 11, 1889)

Idaho (July 3, 1890)

44 stars - July 4, 1891 to July 3, 1896

Wyoming (July 10, 1890)

45 stars - July 4, 1896 to July 3, 1908

Utah (January 4, 1896)

46 stars - July 4, 1908 to July 3, 1912

Oklahoma (November 16, 1907)

48 stars - July 4, 1912 to July 3, 1959

New Mexico (January 6, 1912)

Arizona (February 14, 1912)

49 stars - July 4, 1959 to July 3, 1960

Alaska (January 3, 1959)

50 stars - July 4, 1960 to present

Hawaii (August 21, 1959)

Photo: Legendsofamerica
Photo: Legendsofamerica

United States Symbols

The United States, like every nation has its symbols — specific objects that represent beliefs, values, traditions, or other intangible ideas that make it unique. These symbols can help to bind a nation together by reminding its people of their nation’s history and most important principles.

The United States has several symbols that represent these principles

United States Flag – The flag of the United States is commonly known as the “Stars and Stripes” or “Old Glory.” On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution stating: “Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.” It is unknown whether Betsy Ross sewed the first flag created under this resolution; many historians view this story as a myth. The current 50-star flag is the 27th edition of the flag and the one that has been in use the longest, since 1960. In 1818, Congress passed a law stating that a new star be added for each new state; the 13 stripes would remain constant to represent the 13 colonies.

National Bird – Bald Eagle – The bald eagle has long been the national bird of the United States. In 1782, the Continental Congress adopted the Great Seal of the United States, which depicts a bald eagle holding 13 olive branches in one talon and 13 arrows in the other. The olive branch stands for the power to make peace, while the arrows stand for the power to make war. The bald eagle was chosen because of its long life, great strength, and majestic looks, and because it was believed to exist only on this continent at the time.

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

National Mammal – North American Bison – The bison, like the bald eagle, has for many years been a symbol of America for its strength, endurance, and dignity, reflecting the pioneer spirit of our country. The bison was officially made the National Mammal in May 2016 and designated during a ceremony at Wind Cave National Park in South Dakota in November. Tens of millions of bison, also known as buffalo, once thundered across a range stretching from central Canada through the Great Plains and northern Mexico. After a century-long slaughter driven by commercial hunting for buffalo pelts, the population dwindled to a thousand or fewer by the late 1800s. However, about 30,000 wild bison now once again roam the country, with the largest population in Yellowstone National Park. They can also be found scattered in public, tribal, and private lands in the U.S. and Canada.

The Liberty Bell – When the Pennsylvania colony’s leaders wanted a bell for its state house (now known as Independence Hall) that could be heard around the city, the Liberty Bell was commissioned in 1752. One side of the bell has a biblical quote: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” The most notable feature of the bell, though, is a crack in the metal that runs up from the bell’s lip. Although there is no proof, many people believe that the Liberty Bell was rung to mark the reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. In the 1830s, abolitionists adopted the bell as a symbol of their struggle to abolish slavery; they popularized the name the Liberty Bell. Between 1885 and 1915, the bell traveled around the country for exhibitions and patriotic events. The bell currently resides in the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia’s Independence Mall. The bell’s crack is the source of many stories that have reached nearly mythic proportion; the crack’s appearance may have added to the bell’s symbolic power.

The National Anthem – “The Star-Spangled Banner,” has a colorful history. Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the anthem as a poem in 1814, after he witnessed the British Navy bombarding ships during the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland during the War of 1812. The melody was “borrowed” from the tune of a popular British song. The song became the official national anthem in 1931, replacing several other songs commonly sung at public events. The anthem is somewhat controversial because of its war-related imagery and the challenge that the music poses to singers.

National Motto – In God We Trust – In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower approved a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress declaring “In God We Trust” as the official national motto of the United States of America. This motto supplanted “E Pluribus Unum” that had been in use since the initial 1776 design of the Great Seal of the United States. The motto first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.

Photo: The conversation
Photo: The conversation

Great Seal of the United States – This seal, established in 1782, is used to authenticate certain documents such as foreign treaties and presidential proclamations. The symbols on the seal reflect the beliefs and values that the Founding Fathers wanted to pass on to their descendants. In the center of the seal is our national bird — the bald eagle that holds a scroll in its beak inscribed with our original national motto: “E Pluribus Unum,” which is Latin for “one from many”, representing a nation created from 13 colonies. The eagle grasps an olive branch in its right talon and a bundle of thirteen arrows in its left, representing the power of peace and war. The reverse side of the Great Seal depicts the national coat of arms which is used on numerous documents including United States passports, military insignia, embassy placards, and various flags. The coat of arms includes a 13-step pyramid with the year 1776 in Roman numerals, an eye at the top of a pyramid with the Latin motto “Annuit Coeptis” which means “He favors our undertakings.” Below the pyramid, a scroll reads “Novus Ordo Seclorum”, which is Latin for “New Order of the Ages” referring to 1776 as the beginning of the American new era.

Uncle Sam – With the initials “U.S”, Uncle Sam is a common national personification of the U.S. federal government or the country in general that, according to legend, came into use during the War of 1812. The name is linked to Samuel Wilson, a meat packer from Troy, New York, who supplied barrels of beef to the United States Army during the War of 1812. He is portrayed as an older, bearded man dressed in clothes that evoke the U.S. flag. While the figure of Uncle Sam represents specifically the government, Columbia represents the United States as a nation.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

National Tree – Oak Tree – The mighty oak tree was designated as the official national tree of the United States of America in 2004. With more than 60 species of oak grow in the United States, it is cherished for its beauty, abundant shade, and top-quality lumber. One U.S. senator said: “It is a fine choice to represent our nation’s strength, as it grows from just an acorn into a powerful entity whose many branches continue to strengthen and reach skyward with every passing year.”

The Statue of Liberty – With the formal title of “Liberty Enlightening the World, the statue was a gift to the United States from the people of France. Dedicated in 1886, the statue shows Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom. Located in New York Harbor, the statue holds a torch in one hand and a tablet representing the law in the other. The date of the Declaration of Independence is inscribed on the tablet. A broken chain sits at Libertas’s feet. The statue is an iconic symbol of freedom. Protestors around the world have used the image of the statue in their struggles for political freedom. Today the neoclassical sculpture on Liberty Island is part of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and is a major tourist attraction.

National Flower – Rose – The rose was designated as the official flower and floral emblem of the United States of America in 1986. The rose grows naturally throughout North America, blooming in several colors including red, pink, white, or yellow, and can have a wonderfully rich aroma. The rose is a symbol of love and beauty, as as well as war and politics, all over the world. Several of the 50 states have also adopted the rose as their official state flower, including New York, Oklahoma, Georgia, Iowa, and North Dakota.

United States Dollar

Photo: Pinterest
Photo: Pinterest

The United States dollar (symbol: $; code: USD; also abbreviated US$ or U.S. Dollar, to distinguish it from other dollar-denominated currencies; referred to as the dollar, U.S. dollar, American dollar, or colloquially buck) is the official currency of the United States and its territories. The Coinage Act of 1792 introduced the U.S. dollar at par with the Spanish silver dollar, divided it into 100 cents, and authorized the minting of coins denominated in dollars and cents. U.S. banknotes are issued in the form of Federal Reserve Notes, popularly called greenbacks due to its historically predominantly green color.

The monetary policy of the United States is conducted by the Federal Reserve System, which acts as the nation's central bank.

The U.S. dollar was originally defined under a bimetallic standard of 371.25 grains (24.057 g) fine silver or, from 1837, 23.22 grains (1.505 g) fine gold, or $20.67 per troy ounce. The Gold Standard Act of 1900 linked the dollar solely to gold. From 1934 its equivalence to gold was revised to $35 per troy ounce. Since 1971 all links to gold have been repealed.

The U.S. dollar became an important international reserve currency after the First World War, and displaced the pound sterling as the world's primary reserve currency by the Bretton Woods Agreement towards the end of the Second World War. The dollar is the most widely used currency in international transactions. It is also the official currency in several countries and the de facto currency in many others, with Federal Reserve Notes (and, in a few cases, U.S. coins) used in circulation.

As of February 10, 2021, currency in circulation amounted to US$2.10 trillion, $2.05 trillion of which is in Federal Reserve Notes (the remaining $50 billion is in the form of coins and older-style United States Notes).

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