Each U.S. state flag has its own story to tell and sometimes those stories are more bizarre and complex than you can imagine. Flag designs in the early days were a matter of great discussion and dispute. It was often not a stately process, so to speak, but rather a chaotic gathering of symbolic ideas and happenstance. Contests were held, arguments were made, and artists were hired to do their thing.
Some states easily rose to the occasion with pride and patriotic fervor. Others seemed to stumble along not sure exactly how to proceed. Here are six outstanding examples of states whose flag designs prove decision-making can be as rewarding as it is complicated.
The citizens of Kansas were passionate about their state flag. While other states were dragging their feet, Kansans were involved and eager to claim their own cultural symbol. The Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored a contest in 1916 in the hopes of finding the perfect design. The winner was a gold sunflower with a central state seal on a blue background. It turned out not to be what the people wanted and it was thus declined.
The debate and bickering continued with several viable design options proposed and soon tossed into the trash heap. In 1925, the legislature settled on a state banner that also featured the ubiquitous sunflower symbol. This caused more conflict since some saw the sunflower as nothing more than a weed. Adjutant General Milton R. McLean of the Kansas State Guard pushed through and made the final decision in 1927. In 1963, the word "Kansas" was added to the bottom of the flag.
The Maryland state flag is distinctive in its uncommon pattern and unusual colors. It is a celebration of the state's rich and sometimes conflicted history. Maryland did not have a state flag before the war but the heraldic colors of gold and black associated with George Calvert (Lord Baltimore) were widely accepted as the state's banner colors.
Maryland's state flag is quartered with the first and fourth sections displaying the checkered gold and black pattern of the Calvert coat of arms. The second and third quarters show the red and white Crossland banner. Marylanders wanted a symbol meant to unify the citizenry of a state once split by conflicting sympathies during the Civil War. They thought it would serve as a reminder of the possibility of reconciliation no matter what caused the division.
Colorado became the 38th state in 1876 but the state flag made its appearance 35 years later, in 1911. The Colorado legislature introduced a bland official flag in 1907, never really bothering to let the public know. Because no one knew a flag already existed, the Daughters of the American Revolution got together three years later intent on designing the state's first patriotic symbol.
The enthusiastic women were undaunted when the found out about the existing flag still moldering in the closet at the state capital. They rapidly got to work creating a version of the still popular flag flown today. It is comprised of three horizontal stripes, two in blue to represent the Colorado skies and one in white for the snow-capped Rocky Mountains. A circular red "C" filled with a golden disc completes the beloved and iconic flag.
The simple beauty of the Alaska state flag has its roots in a contest held for schoolchildren in 1929. Alaska was not a U.S. state then but the citizens wanted an official representation of their territory. A 13-year-old orphan named Benny Benson from Seward, Alaska, designed the winning entry. He won $1000 and an engraved watch when his work was chosen among the over 700 design ideas presented by the local children.
The flag's deep blue field signified the Alaskan skies as well as the state flower, the forget-me-not. Benny included the stars of the Big Dipper as a symbol of strength and added a large single star in the upper right-hand corner of the flag. It represented the brilliant North Star, which Benny saw as an apt beacon of hope for his homeland. When Alaska became a state in 1959, the original flag was unanimously adopted.
New Mexico's state flag stands out among other state flags for its unique yellow background and red Zia sun sign. The North American Vexillological Association has designated it as the best-designed of any state flag. It is one of the few state flags in the country not showcasing the color blue. Local physician and archaeologist Dr. Harry Mera is credited with coming up with the flag's uncommon design.
Dr. Mera was inspired by a Zia sun symbol he spotted on a 19th-century pot in a museum. It is the sacred sun sign of the Zia tribe, a branch of the Native American Pueblo community who were originally from the four corners region. The Zia sun sign represents the four cardinal directions, the four seasons of the year, and the four phases of life. The flag was officially introduced in 1925 and remains one of the most admired in the country.