“You’re TRASH, get your stars right.”
~Uncle Sam to Like MOST American Flags
The American flag is iconic. You look at an American flag and you say say, hell yeah, America. Thank God we’re not doing shit like, Bhutan, whose flag is a dragon roller skating on four apples. Okay, bad example, that flag rules.
But back to the American flag. Most of you reading this have only lived with one American flag as part of your life.
But the American flag has changed a lot! Every time we add a state (or multiple states), we have to update that star count. Technically we’ve had 27 iterations of the American flag, but we’re going to say that the Betsy Ross flag (with stars in a circle) counts as a different flag than our first official 13-star flag.
So let’s talk about which flags are awesome and which are pure TRASH.
Ranking America’s 28 Flags
28: The 38-Star Flag (1877-1890)
Ladies and gentlemen, we present you the shittiest flag in American history. We hate it, and you should hate it too. After 10 years flying a 37-state flag which, despite being an odd number of states, managed to be “decent” and “a good effort”, Colorado joined the nation and fucked everything up. Just look at this garbage.
This flag represented the first time in our 101 year history (at the time) that we ever decided to just highlight all the stars and press the “Align Left” button, and folks, there is a reason that this is the only time we made that mistake.
To pull back the curtain of the writing process of this article just a bit, we’ve been going through these flags chronologically, writing about each one, and placing them on our list where we think they belong. When we got to this flag, after writing about twenty other flags, we gasped. We were upset. We cursed out loud in public.
This is a garbage flag, designed by people who don’t know what they’re doing. The fact that it flew for 13 years, and that that was a 13 year period where you are probably aware of roughly zero moments of worthwhile historical events, are probably related. Fuck this flag.
27: The 31-Star Flag (1851-1858)
UGH. What the hell were they thinking here? Did California join the union in 1851 and say, “Listen, make the flag just pure shit? Just, objectively bad. Can you do that? Maybe instead of having the single line of five stars in the middle, put it as the second line and tell all the other states to fuck off?”
We’re livid. We’re seething. Mind you, the 30-star flag fucking ruled, and was around for just three years, and then we had to deal with seven years of this insult. This is an outrage.
26: The 29-Star Flag (1847-1848)
Listen we know, this is a rough patch. Thankfully this fucker was only around for one year, because Iowa couldn’t just wait for another state to join and get us to a solid 30 states, but it’s rough. At least it’s centered (fuck you 38-star flag) but there’s no reason you should have three different amounts of stars in four rows.
This is lazy at best, and a flag we wouldn’t even get mad if we saw it burned at worst. 2/10, would not recommend.
25: The 25-Star Flag (1836-1837)
No, fuck you.
So first of all, look at this flag. It’s bullshit. It’s uneven, it’s all over the place, but most importantly, it’s an UNFORCED ERROR. You know you don’t have to just have four rows of stars, right? Once we got to 30 states, we abandoned that little requisite, but for some reason we have this travesty up here instead of, just hear us out here, FIVE ROWS OF FIVE STARS.
We’re so mad about this. We hate this flag so much. This was the result of Arkansas joining up, which just gives us another reason to distrust Arkansas.
24: The 21-Star Flag (1819-1820)
We hate this. We. Hate this. This is the flag version of an incomplete sentence appearing on a standardized test. Like, enough people were involved in creating it that either they fucked up or we got the question wrong. What’s going on with the first two rows there?
There are a lot of uneven flag designs, thanks to how numbers and stars work, but for whatever reason, when there are fewer states, and so much open space, flags like this stand out even more.
Illinois (21st state admitted, in late 1818) should apologize for this bullshit. We always assumed that the worst thing to come out of Illinois was Al Capone but this is giving that gangster a run for his money.
23: The 13-Star Flag (1777-1795)
Fuck. This. Flag. Comparing this to the other 13-star flag, the Betsy Ross flag (which is much higher on this list), it’s obvious why a circle is a better choice. There’s so much empty space here. This flag looks like it’s flicking you off. Maybe it is.
22: The 23-Star Flag (1820-1822)
This flag, created after the admission of Alabama and Maine, represents a common but frustrating pattern with the history of US flags. The best flags are the ones that are even. Four lines of six stars? Yes please! Five lines of six stars? We likey. But when there’s an off number, you get this bullshit, and we’re wondering what state we should be more mad at for this uneven bullshit.
21: The 33-Star Flag (1859-1861)
Woah there, let’s calm down a bit, okay flag designer? While instinctively we think that the four lines of seven with the five star line smack dab in the middle was the right way to go, this still feels a little jarring. It’s almost fitting that this is the flag that resulted from Oregon joining, as this is a Portland-ass looking flag.
Fun fact, this is the flag that was flying at Fort Sumpter when the Confederates captures it, essentially starting the Civil War. But, because this is a hipster-ass influenced flag, that particular flag had a completely different, diamond pattern that honestly looks like it belongs in Space Invaders.
Additional fun fact—there’s no law saying how your American flag should display its requisite number of stars. You could have an American flag that spelled out, “Into Butt Stuff” with 50 stars, and it’d be up to code. Just saying. (We may have made that up, but we also may have given you an idea for an Etsy store).
20: The 43-Star Flag (1890-1891)
We honestly can’t tell if we love or hate this. It’s like the stars are waving at us. Considering that 43 is a tough number to make look pleasing, we’ll take it. This also represents one of the largest single jumps in the amount of stars on a flag (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Washington were added as states in 1889, with Idaho joining in 1890. We assume that the reason we added them all at once was we took a long time making our flag look like a Magic Eye puzzle).
There are two more fun facts to keep in mind for this flag. It represents the first time we went from five rows of stars to six rows, and it also saved us from our long, national nightmare of the sin against nature that was the 38-star flag.
19: The 36-Star Flag (1865-1867)
Ugh what the fuck is going on here. We’re dizzy just looking at this thing. Of course Nevada joining the United States was responsible for us spending two years with the flag equivalent of a yo-yo.
18: The 27-Star Flag (1845-1846)
Again. Just, meh. Leave it to Florida to come into the nation and give us a shitty flag. At least this flag hasn’t taken bath salts and tried to eat someone’s face, we guess.
17: The 37-Star Flag (1867-1877)
For an odd-numbered flag, this is a pretty decent solution. It kind of looks like a beefy star sandwich! Our biggest issue with this flag, which we can thank Nebraska’s addition to the Union for (kind of surprising that Nevada became a state before Nebraska, right?) is that we had it for ten years. That’s the longest gap between new flags since our 1822-1836 period of the 23-star flag.
This would rank higher if we only had it for a few years, like a lot of other flags on this list. This is not a flag that’s worth staring at for a decade.
16: The 32-Star Flag (1858-1859)
Listen, it’s not perfect, but it makes sense, and it ended our long, seven-year torture at the hands of the 31-star flag, so we’ll give it a bit of a bump here.
15: The 44-Star Flag (1891-1896)
We’re in the section of this article where every flag looks like a column, which at least feels symmetrical, so it doesn’t make us made. Wyoming’s statehood is responsible for this perfectly okay flag.
14: The Betsy Ross Flag (1776)
So the Betsy Ross flag, which may-or-may-not-lol-probably-not have been made by Betsy Ross, was designed in May of 1775. It was the only time we tried to make the stars show up in a circle which, as you can tell by our hatred of the OTHER 13 state flag, was the right decision to go.
There was like a summer that racists co-opted this flag, which was a very frustrating summer, but as far as we can tell, it’s lost that “white nationalist” tinge, and objectively, this is a baller flag.
13: The 26-Star Flag (1837-1845)
If you’re going to not have a nice, clean flag, at least you can have some rhyme or reason in your flag, and that’s what we have here. This could have been a pure disaster. If the first and second line had six stars, and the third and fourth had seven? God, could you imagine? We’d probably develop an aneurism out of pure rage.
It’s not the best flag, or even a particularly great flag, but it was the best flag based on the options available.
12: The 46-Star Flag (1908-1912)
This is a little busy for our taste, and you can thank Oklahoma for that. We don’t have much more to say about this, other than the fact that it feels surprising that Oklahoma was one of the five most recent states to join the United States.
11: The 34-Star Flag (1861-1863)
In 1861, Kansas joined the Union, while a bunch of states left, and we were like, “Nope, fuckers, you’re still in America” and kept all the Confederate states’ stars up here. This was the flag that flew for the first half of the Civil War, and for an uneven flag, this might be the best one? We can get behind it.
There’s an alternate version of this flag that is wild as fuck, which definitely should have been the official flag in our opinion. But this one is still pretty good.
10: The 49-Star Flag (1959-1960)
Alaska was added about a year before Hawaii, so we had to make a flag where just Alaska was represented. We don’t know why that really had to be the case, as there are numerous instances of us waiting for other states to join before redesigning the flag, but whatever. It looks fine, but it’s got nothing on our number one flag on our list, which this replaced.
9: The 15-Star Flag (1795-1818)
Now this, this we can get behind. It’s like a dance. Five rows of three, some nice diagonal lines dancing around there. This is also the “Star Spangled Banner” officially, as it was the flag flying that’s referenced in the National Anthem.
We should point out, this flag came out in 1795. Vermont was the 14th state, added to the onion in 1791, and in 1792 Kentucky joined. But we waited four years before making a new flag, which feels pointed somehow?
8: The 20-Star Flag (1818-1819)
Love it. Listen, when you can get some symmetry without just crowding the dang thing with stars, you’re going to have a good time.
This represented a pretty big jump in states of the Union. In fact, honestly, if we lived in Tennessee we’d be kind of pissed? Tennessee (the 16th state) was added to the union in 1796. Literally a year after the 15-star-flag/Star Spangled Banner was made. They had to wait over 20 years to actually show up on the flag, joining Ohio (1803, also very much allowed to be mad), Louisiana (1812), Indiana (1816) and Mississippi (1817).
But look at that flag. That is a clean flag. We’re all about it. Considering that this beautiful flag only lasted two years, Ohio, Louisiana, and Tennessee have every right to be like, “Oh what the fuck!?” about how long they had to wait to be placed on the flag.
7: The 30-Star Flag (1848-1851)
Gorgeous. And about goddamn time. We spent over 70 years living under tyranny. Specifically, the tyranny that all American flags should only be four rows. It led to some terrible mistakes (looking at you, 25-star flag) but finally when we got our 30th state, looked across our continent and realized, yeah this number is not going to start going up anytime soon, we blessedly decided to expand to five rows. A five-by-six flag is a solid flag, we’re just glad everyone came to their senses in time, and give our thanks to Wisconsin for joining to give us a reason to have this flag.
6: The 45-Star Flag (1896-1908)
You know what? We’re into this. We didn’t think we’d be into this, but it’s got a bit of a flow to it. This flag, the result of Utah taking the statehood plunge, reminds us of slalom skiing for some reason?
We love uniformity in our maps, and this is one of the purest types of non-uniform flag designs. Six rows of stars, alternating from eight and seven stars per row, works more than it has any right to, and is our favorite non-50-star non-grid flag from the 20th century.
5: The 28-Star Flag (1846-1847)
This flag is getting a bump ahead some of the other “ahhh, symmetry” flags just because it’s almost a shame that we only had it for a year, and that it was followed up by the absolute crime against humanity that was the 29-star flag. God we’re still mad about that one. It sucked so hard.
Anyway, if you’re curious what state joined the nation to make this handsome boy, it was Texas. Thanks, Texas!
4: The 50-Star Flag (1960-Present)
We love our flag. Most of you reading this have only had this flag as part of your life.
But is it the best flag? We can’t quite sign off on that.
Now, it has a lot of things going for it, for sure. Compared to the 49-star flag, which had seven rows, our current flag made the largest one-time leap, going up to nine rows, alternating between six and five stars, taking notes from the 45-star flag.
Another feature you might notice is that, again compared to the 49-star flag, this flag has a lot of blue space. That’s because it also represents the single most noticeable shrinking of the star size that we’ve seen in the history of this flag’s design. And we like it. But we like our symmetrical flags better.
So as much as it pains us to say it, our current flag is just our fourth favorite flag of all time. But 4th out of 28 isn’t anything to scoff at. It’s still a badass flag. It’s just not the best flag.
3: The 24 Star Flag (1822-1836)
Clean, clear, the stars have enough room to breath, this is a PEAK American flag.
Missouri has given us a lot of bad shit. St. Louis pizza, Cardinals fans, etc. But they ALSO gave us one of the best American flag we’ve had. Because when they joined the union in 1821, we got to retire our 23-star flag which was hot trash, and replace it with this beauty. AND we got to fly this bad boy for fourteen whole years, longer than any previous flag except for the 15- and 13-star variants up to that point.
So thank, you Missouri, for this badass flag. Your pizza is trash.
2: The 35 Star Flag (1863-1865)
Hell yeah! This flag is awesome for a few reasons. First, it’s because it came about thanks to West Virginia being like, “Hey, Virginia? You’re being traitorous assholes right now. We want to be AMERICAN” and making their own state. And second, because it’s the flag we had when we finally won the Civil War.
Plus, it’s a tight five rows of seven stars. Enough to fill the space, but not too busy. That’s a damn sexy looking flag. A proud flag. An American flag.
1: The 48 Star Flag (1912-1959)
Here we have the last time that the American flag had a perfect grid of stars (shout out to New Mexico and Arizona joining the team) and lasted longer than any other flag other than our current one. And as much as we appreciate Hawaii and Alaska, this has us thinking…maybe we should have just not let them in?
Like, we get it, they’re both very important states, but…just look at that flag. That feels like a natural ending point for the American flag, doesn’t it? For 47 years, we had our perfect flag. Listen, we don’t have any problems with our current flag, because America. We’re just saying that we, on the flag front, peaked in 1912.
And that’s okay. We can always look back to our perfect flag. Don’t be sad because it’s over. Smile because it happened.
Love it. A couple typos which don’t bother me except: one unfortunate omission of the “l” in “flag”.