The Teenager Who Designed the Modern American Flag

December 9, 2022

American Flag

In 1958, 17-year-old Robert G. Heft was assigned an American history project while attending Lancaster High School in Ohio. There were discussions about adding Hawaii and Alaska as new states, and Heft decided to come up with a design for a 50-star flag from the current 48-star flag that was already in place.

Heft spent twelve and a half hours coming up with a new arrangement and sewing the new flag, even though he didn’t know how to sew. He put the stars in four rows of five stars between five rows of six stars. When he turned the design into his teacher, Stanley Pratt, he received a “B-” for his work.

Pratt told Heft that the flag, “lacked originality,” and “anybody could make the flag.” His teacher even asked him if he knew how many states were in the United States. Pratt then told Heft that if he could get Congress to adopt it, he would receive a higher grade.

Heft sent his flag to his congressman in Ohio at the time, Representative Walter Moeller. Heft’s design won out over more than 1,500 other entries. Congress chose the design for the new flag that represented the two new states in the Union that were both admitted in 1959, and Heft’s design was adopted as the new flag of the United States on July 4, 1960. Heft was personally invited by Dwight D. Eisenhower to Washington D.C. for the official flag ceremony. His teacher even changed his grade to an “A.”

Illustration of a Flat US 48 star flag of the period 1912-1959. This design was used by the US in both World Wars and the Korean war.
The 48-star United States Flag (1912–1960)

Heft didn’t just stop with the 50-star flag. He also made a 51-star version that had six rows which started with a row of nine stars and alternated with a row of eight stars. This one wasn’t needed, but just to be sure, it stayed in the possession of another Congressman from Ohio.

Heft’s original flag saw an incredible amount of activity. It flew over 88 embassies and every state capitol building. It has even been flown over the White House while five different presidents have been in office. No other flag has had this claim to fame. Heft kept the original flag in his possession for the remainder of his life.

Heft went to college and became a high school teacher and later a professor. He was even the mayor of Napoleon, Ohio, for 20 years. Heft died in 2009 in Saginaw, Michigan, where he was born, at the age of 68.

About the author 

Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites. I hope you learn many new things here that add to your knowledge.

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