Colorado is well known for many things – skiing in the Rocky Mountains, the Mile-High city of Denver and the incredible colleges in towns such as Boulder and Colorado Springs. The landscape matches the diversity of the state’s attractions. Visitors can explore the arid desert of Mesa Verde National Park, then go up to Aspen to enjoy world-class snow sports.
Just as the words Aspen or Vail conjure up visions of snowy slopes, the Colorado state flag is instantly recognizable as the proud symbol of a great state.
Like many other state flags, the flag of Colorado evolved over a number of years. When Colorado officially became a state in 1876 — hence the nickname “Centennial State” — it entered the Union simply with the United States flag as its banner. After more than 30 years of statehood, Colorado adopted its first official state flag. It featured the state seal on a blue field, a common state flag design at that time and still today.
The state seal is rich with detail, featuring the pick-ax and sledgehammer of the mining trade, the iconic mountains and the state motto, among other more arcane symbols. This flag was flown as the official Colorado state flag from 1907 to 1911.
Little is known about the motives behind the creation of a new state flag, just as very little is known about the man behind the new design. State lore has it that the flag was created because a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution mistakenly believed that Colorado did not have a state flag.
These loyal Coloradoan ladies industriously set about creating a new flag and submitted it to the state assembly. The assembly passed a measure to create a new flag, but they did not agree with the ladies’ design. A new design was submitted by Andrew Carlisle Carson and officially adopted in the spring of 1911.
In the passage of the new state flag bill, important language was added to ensure the flag belonged as much to the people of Colorado as to the state and its representatives. The original wording was, “to be used on all occasions when the state is officially and publicly represented.”
The 1911 assembly added the clause, “with the privilege of use by all citizens upon such occasions as they may deem fitting and appropriate.” While they were clearer than their predecessors on the use of the flag, they did fail to add official regulations to the design of the flag. This resulted in many variations in the color of the flag’s elements, as well as the placement of the iconic “C.” The colors were standardized in 1929, and the size and placement of the “C” icon was standardized in 1964.
The design of the state flag of Colorado is bold and graphic, instantly eye-catching. The design becomes even more appealing when the symbolism behind each element is considered. Before the adoption of this official state flag, the flags of three different countries and eight territories had previously flown over Colorado. That is a lot of history to symbolize with one flag!
The flag is divided into thirds lengthwise with blue stripes on the top and bottom and a white stripe in the middle. The blue and white are the same colors as the flag of the United States. Traditionally, blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice while white signifies purity and innocence. Colorado added the meaning that blue represents the expansive sky and white is a reminder of the snowcapped mountains.
The main element of the flag is a large, red “C” with a gold disc that completely fills its center. The “C” and the disc are simply representative of the state name, but the colors have a few different meanings.
The specific color red is the same as the red of the United States flag, which traditionally means hardiness and valor. For Colorado, it also represents the “ruddy” color of the earth – the red dirt that makes the Colorado landscape bright. The gold disc represents the state’s gold rush in the 1800s. The red and gold together are also symbolic of the Spanish flag, much the same as the Arizona state flag. It memorializes the influence of the Spanish conquistadors who originally colonized the territory.
It is easy to show state pride when the flag is this bold. And the citizens of Colorado certainly are proud of their flag. It is common to see it flying on houses as well as on T-shirts, keychains and other state memorabilia. Colorado is also the only state to feature the state flag in its entirety on the state highway markers.