Since the birth of our great nation, the American flag has gone through many changes and designs and, though the first president was elected in 1789, there wasn’t an official flag for the Commander in Chief until 1882. Congress then declared that the president was the commander of the army and navy and, with this designation, they needed flags to denote the president’s presence.
The first flag solely for the president was designated by the Navy in 1882. A solid dark blue background with the nation’s crest in white on center, and then an arc of thirteen stars across the top, made up this flag’s design.
The shield in front of the eagle held 7 red and six white stars (the opposite of the current U.S. flag) and had 13 stars embedded in the top border. Simple and powerful, the flag was hoisted aboard ships when the president was on board. The flag maintained the same size as standard navy flags: 10.2ft by 14.4ft.
The Navy Department issued a General Order declaring this the flag of the President of the United States on August 9, 1882.
Not to be outdone, the Army came up with their own flag for the Commander in Chief. This was a slightly different look with a solid red background and the U.S. coat of arms in full color in the center of a dark blue star situated in the middle of the flag. The large blue star was surrounded by 46 small white stars, representing the states of the Union at the time, with four additional stars in the corner of the stadard.
First displayed in 1898, the presidential flag was also a presidential color and was made of silk. The flag was constructed of bunting with gold and silver fringe; red, white, and blue cords complete with tassels; and on a pole topped with a gold eagle spreading his wings.
In 1899, another design change happened with the navy version of the presidential flag. Now a full-color seal in the center of the dark blue background became the standard. The design removed the white stars, as well—a brilliant idea since the Union was still growing.
In 1901, the Navy version was declared as the official presidential flag by Theodore Roosevelt and, though the army followed suit, they kept the design the same as the 1898 version. Then, in 1912, President Taft passed an executive order declaring “the field of the president’s flag shall be dark blue,” after which the army flipped the colors and added two more stars, bringing the total up to 48.
The result was still two different standards to serve one president. To rectify this, President Wilson ordered one flag to be used by both branches and for any need to hoist the president’s flag. The design was similar, using the President’s Seal instead of the Great Seal of the United States, in which the eagle looked toward the direction it would fly, facing the talon with the arrows, instead of toward the hoist, like the eagle in the national arms.
The crest was designed with the cloud puffs and stars in arcs, rather than in a circular pattern. The eagle, arrows, stars, and clouds were shown in all white, with black stitching for the details; the beak and legs, olive branch, shield, and rays of the crest were shown in color.
Finally, in 1945, President Truman issued an Executive Order making changes to both the flags, as well as the presidential seal and coat of arms. The most significant changes were the substitution of a circle of white stars equal to the number of states surrounding the coat of arms, which did away with the four stars in the corner.
Roosevelt had questioned this before his death since the old flag had 4 stars in the corners and yet there were now 5-star generals. Though the president doesn’t hold an official military rank, it just didn’t seem to fit correctly at that time. The next significant change was the eagle facing his right, toward the hoist and the talon with the olive branches, instead of to the left, and also showing the coat of arms in the flag in full color, instead of primarily in white. Last, they lightened the shade of blue in the chief of the shield, to separate it from the color of the background more effectively.
The new flag was first hoisted on October 27, 1945, aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt when President Truman went aboard to witness a fleet review in New York City. A very appropriate first display, since Roosevelt had expressed his desire to change the flag before his death.
The size of the flag shifted, as well, to maintain accordance with military and naval custom; the president’s color for ceremonial use ashore has been 4 feet 4 inches by 5 feet 6 inches, in conformance with Army custom, while the flag flown aboard ship, like other personal flags used by the Navy, has the proportions of approximately 7:10—the same as the American flag.
This flag remains our nation’s presidential flag today.