Modern materials create longer-lasting flags for 4th of July celebrations

Technology |  2 min. read

Planning to fly the flag for the Fourth?  The Stars and Stripes that we fly on this Fourth of July, 2019, hasn’t changed much from the original….

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Congress set that design back in 1777:  “It is resolved that the flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternated red and white, that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.”

13, of course, was for the original 13 colonies  But by the early 1790s, we’d added two states, and so Congress updated the number of stars and stripes to 15.

That flag…

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

…is the one which flew over Fort McHenry, the “Star Spangled Banner”, the one that inspired our national anthem.  And by then, the arrangement of the stars was the one we know today.

But, by 1818 the country had grown by another five states.  And now Congress adopted the formula we’ve used ever since.  A return to 13 stripes, for the original colonies — and a star for every state.  (That 50th star was added in 1960 for Hawaii — which had become a state the year before.)

And two hundred years later, there’s no improving on that design.  But there is one area where we have done better — and that is, what the flag is made from.  Those original American flags were made from wool or cotton or linen or silk, or — a combination of those fabrics.  That’s what they had in those days.

Today though, most of our flags (especially if they are made to be flown outdoors) are made from polyester or nylon.  Those materials hold up better in the wind, the rain, the sunlight, in heat and in cold.  And both nylon and polyester, of course, are made from petrochemicals (which are made from oil and natural gas):  butadiene is the starting point for nylon and xylene for polyester.

But large or small, cotton or nylon — whichever version of the flag you raise on the Fourth, “long may it wave.”