What Do the Colors Mean on the American Flag?

Kim Dacka
The meaning of the colors red, white, and blue on the American flag

The American flag contains 50 white stars in an indigo field, representing the 50 states, and 13 horizontal stripes (seven red stripes and six white stripes), representing the 13 original colonies. There have been 27 variations on the American flag between 1777 and 1960, but the colors have remained the same. The vivid red, white, and blue of the flag are as meaningful as they are beautiful. What do the colors mean on the American flag?

The meaning of the color red in the American flag

When the flag was adopted in 1777, there was no official meaning ascribed to the colors. It wasn't until 1782, when the Continental Congress adopted The Great Seal of the United States, that Secretary Charles Thomson declared their meaning. The red in the American flag symbolizes valor and bravery. Red was also the color of America's first unofficial flag, the Grand Union.

Some interpret the red color in the flag to represent the blood spilled by those fighting for our nation’s existence during the Revolutionary War and in military service throughout history. A large US flag is flown outside military facilities and is also ceremonially given to the families of fallen soldiers.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan declared it "The Year of the Flag" and shared his interpretation of its meaning: “The colors of our flag signify the qualities of the human spirit we Americans cherish. Red for courage and readiness to sacrifice; white for pure intentions and high ideals; and blue for vigilance and justice.”

The meaning of the color white in the American flag

White in our flag represents purity and innocence. In 1977, The House of Representatives published a book on the meaning of the flag, describing the white stars in this way: “The star is a symbol of the heavens and the divine goal to which man has aspired from time immemorial; the stripe is symbolic of the rays of light emanating from the sun.”

The meaning of the color blue in the American flag

Blue represents vigilance, perseverance, and justice. The specific shade of blue is known as "Old Glory Blue," a dye made from the indigo plant.

The colors of the American flag hold multiple meanings, which is an apt reflection of a country made up of many people, cultures, and perspectives. According to flag expert Mike Buss of the American Legion veterans' organization: “For us veterans, the flag represents why we served. We were there because the flag represented our freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion.”

Here at Flags USA, we believe that part of the beauty of the American flag is that, even as our country evolves and changes, the red, white, and blue remain constant. The flag reminds us of our shared ideals and invites us to work together to achieve our common goals.

When we look at the flag, it inspires us to continue striving together to achieve its promise of life, liberty, and equal opportunity for one and all.

The history and meaning of the colors red, white, and blue on the american flag

Quotes about the American flag

  • "The flag of the United States has not been created by rhetorical sentences in declarations of independence and in bills of rights. It has been created by the experience of a great people, and nothing is written upon it that has not been written by their life. It is the embodiment, not of a sentiment, but of a history." - Woodrow Wilson
  • "We identify the flag with almost everything we hold dear on earth, peace, security, liberty, our family, our friends, our home… but when we look at our flag and behold it emblazoned with all our rights we must remember that it is equally a symbol of our duties. Every glory that we associate with it is the result of duty done." - Calvin Coolidge
  • "I believe our flag is more than just cloth and ink. It is a universally recognized symbol that stands for liberty, and freedom. It is the history of our nation, and it's marked by the blood of those who died defending it." - John Thune
  • "I stand for peace, honor, truth and justice. I stand for freedom. I am confident. I am arrogant. I am proud. When I am flown with my fellow banners, my head is a little higher, my colors a little truer." - Howard Schnaubner
  • “A thoughtful mind, when it sees a Nation’s flag, sees not the flag only, but the Nation itself; and whatever may be its symbols, its insignia, he reads chiefly in the flag the Government, the principles, the truths, the history which belongs to the Nation that sets it forth.” - Henry Ward Beecher
  • "Our flag is red, white and blue, but our nation is a rainbow — red, yellow, brown, black and white — and we're all precious in God's sight." - Jesse Jackson
  • “Our hearts aching, our prayers praying, our flags waving, never forget.” - Betsy Ross

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