Stars on US flag if we have 51 states

Cecil makes some errors on the answer here. He seemed upset over the 33 stars on the flag over Ft. Sumter, even though there were 34 states in 1861. However, Kansas came into the Union in January of 1861; the flag act of 1818 said the star wouldn’t be added until July 4 following admission, so the Ft. Sumter flag properly only had 33 stars. As far as the design of the flag, it wasn’t until an executive order was issued in 1912 that the proportions of the flag and arrangement of the stars was formalized. Before that, there were some very interesting arrangements.

He missed that the flag over Ft. McHenry had 15 stars (and 15 stripes, but that’s another story), even though there were 18 states by that time. And he wants to quibble over just why a state admitted in January wasn’t on the flag by April? The next flag after the 15 star flag of 1795 was the 20 star flag of 1818.

The column in question is How will stars be arranged on the flag if the U.S. ever has 51 states?

He’s also wrong about the Ft. Sumter flag being ugly, although of course YMMV. I think it’s kind of cool:

He’ll get little argument from me about the Guilford Courthouse flag, though - it is freaky:

I saw a flag on “How the States Got Their Shapes”, of people advocating D.C. as #51, and their idea is mine: alternating rows of 8 and 9 stars.

A 51-star flag on the cover of Jeff Greenfield’s alternative-history book Then Everything Changed has the stars in that combination:

While I would not go so far as to argue that “vexillologists” might be the best designers of flags, and admit that Cecil is correct in saying they study flags, he appears to have been sleeping in both the spelling and the meaning of tessellation.

The term “tessellate” (with double L) is the fancy way of saying “tiling” – which is why it is associated with mosaics. In mathematics, it is filling a form completely by repeated use of a single shape with no gaps or overlaps – something that can be done with some shapes (squares – the origin of the term) and not with others (pentagons). Clearly the US flag is not an example of a tessellated form.

According to the international federation of vexillological associations (FIAV in the French lingo), the proper term for flag designers is vexillographers. Since the original term was only invented in the 1950s (to distinguish flag study from heraldry and its coats of arms) maybe we should stick with “flag designers.”

One or two ls is acceptable, and the problem of putting stars on the flag is equivalent to tesselation with larger polygons in which the stars are embedded.

In a previous discussion of this subject, some people said that neither major US party will accept just one state being added to the union. They would only agree to two states added, one with a majority of the population favouring the Democrats, and the other Republican. It is therefore highly unlikely that there will ever be a 51 star flag, though there might plausibly be a 52 star one.

I don’t know anything about US politics, so I can’t say if that’s right or not. But it’s what I’ve heard.

Something similar was done with the near-simultaneous admissions of Alaska in 1959 and Hawaii in 1960, with the balance of power in the Senate being the issue. Ironically enough, ISTR that Alaska was considered Democratic at the time, and Hawaii Republican; the states have since gone in opposite directions ideologically.

A fifty-one star field can also be constructed in circles; a center star surrounded by circles of five, ten, fifteen, and twenty stars will display a sort of five-rayed pseudo-symmetry, with what looks to me like decent spacing.

See here and scroll down for some more fort, naval, or unit flags. These were not meant as national flags.

The Digital Representation looks like something out of Space Invaders.

Bumping this thread, since Cecil’s article is back on the front page.

My google-fu isn’t finding it (which is probably just as well), but when I was a kid and there was talk about adding Puerto Rico, one of the proposals I recall seeing was a field of 51 stars arranged in the shape of the actual* number *“51”. Even as a child I knew that was lame.

The circle design mentioned above by Nametag looks pretty darn cool, actually. I also sort of like this pentagonal one, just for something different.

Another reason the Ft. Sumter flag might have been out-of-date is that you can properly fly a US flag with any number of stars indefinitely, until the thing is just plain worn out. It then should be disposed of “in dignified manner.”

When I was growing up ('60 and early '70s), you could on occasion still see 48-star flags hung out by homeowners. Noooooooo problemo! (I doubt if any are still around today, 40+ years later.)

I’m not saying that was the reason the flag was missing a star. I’m simply pointing out it wouldn’t have been improper if it were.

About 30 years ago I visited a small Ohio high school that, in the auditorium, still displayed a relatively rare 49-star American flag. Those were the “current” flags for only a year, 1959-60, between the admission of Alaska and Hawaii.

If you are so inclined, you can still buy historical flags. Elks Lodges around the USA just had their Flag Day ceremonies, in which historical flags are presented. One source for those is here, it’s interesting to see the designs.

One that stuck out for me was the 33 star flag. President Lincoln refused to remove the stars for the Confederate States that broke away.

…which was apparently the result of Influence on Congress by the flag industry.

I realize this post is a year old, but I feel that I must correct it. Alaska and Hawaii were both admitted into the Union in 1959, Alaska on January 3, and Hawaii on August 21. Alaska got its star first, resulting in a 49 star flag with seven rows of seven stars. Hawaii, although having become a state in 1959, didn’t receive its star on the flag until July 4, 1960.