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President (U.S.)

Last modified: 2024-05-25 by rick wyatt
Keywords: united states | president | eagle | arrows | stars |
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[Presidential flag] image by Steve Stringfellow, 1 July 1998

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There has been no change to the design of the U.S. President's flag since the basic design was adopted in 1945 and modified for 49 stars in 1959 and 50 stars in 1960. Until recent years when screen-printed flags were used, automobile flags were appliquéd or embroidered. This can become very costly when the flags wear out so rapidly on a moving vehicle!
Nick Artimovich, 16 May 1997

To amplify Nick's comments about the automobile flags: a few years ago, I was approached by someone who wanted to do a movie and needed a presidential car flag. What I found out was that you must have an authorization from the White House before you can purchase one. The person I spoke to, who had sold one previously, said that the 12" x 18" flag sold for $300!!!
Rick Wyatt, 14 January 1999

The president's flag is a field of Old Glory blue (the same blue as in the S&S) with the coat of arms from the Presidential seal in full color surrounded by a ring of white stars equal in number to the states of the Union. Before 1916, the Army and Navy used different designs; the Navy design was the national coat of arms on a blue field, as defined in 1882 but in varying artistic depictions. Until bureaucrats decided early in the 20th century that the coat of arms could only appear in the same rendering as shown in the US great seal, there was considerable leeway given in depictions, so that how the eagle, stars, and so on are arranged varied substantially from one use to another and one time to another.

The first flag adopted specifically to represent the President was not devised until 1882. Oddly enough, it was the same basic design as that shown in Norie and Hobbs (1848), the US coat of arms centered on a field of blue. However, this was also the design of the national color of infantry regiments and the national standard of cavalry regiments at the time, so Norie and Hobbs may have heard the term "national standard" and assumed it meant "presidential standard."
Joe McMillan, 12 November 2001

The official description of the US Presidential flag and coat of arms is found in Executive Order 10860 of February 5, 1960:

Section 1. The Coat of Arms of the President of the United States shall be of the following design:

SHIELD: Paleways of thirteen pieces argent and gules, a chief azure; upon the breast of an American eagle displayed holding in his dexter talon an olive branch and in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows all proper, and in his beak a white scroll inscribed "E PLURIBUS UNUM" sable.

CREST: Behind and above the eagle a radiating glory or, on which appears an arc of thirteen cloud puffs proper, and a constellation of thirteen mullets argent.

The whole surrounded by white stars arranged in the form of an annulet with one point of each star outward on the imaginary radiating center lines, the number of stars conforming to the number of stars in the union of the Flag of the United States as established by chapter 1 of title 4 of the United States Code.

Sec. 2. The Seal of the President of the United States shall consist of the Coat of Arms encircled by the words "Seal of the President of the United States."

Sec. 3. The Color and Flag of the President of the United States shall consist of a dark blue rectangular background of sizes and proportions to conform to military and naval custom, on which shall appear the Coat of Arms of the President in proper colors. The proportions of the elements of the Coat of Arms shall be in direct relation to the hoist, and the fly shall vary according to the customs of the military and naval services.
A drawing showing proportions, etc., is attached as part of the order.

  1. The blazon of the coat of arms is almost identical to that for the national coat of arms. The substantive differences are that the scroll color and letters are not specified for the national arms (but usually shown black on yellow; that the national coat of arms does not specify that the glory in the crest is "radiating" or that the cloud is formed by an arc of "puffs;" that the national coat of arms has the stars in the crest on an azure field; and that the national coat of arms is not surrounded by a ring of stars.
  2. Although blazoned "proper" the arrows are shown white.
  3. It is noteworthy that the specifications attached to the executive order have the chief of the shield shown as light blue rather than the dark blue used for official color representations of the national coat of arms (as on embassy placards, State Department flags, and the flags of civilian officials of the Department of the Army).
  4. The Vice Presidential COA is the same as the President's except for some color alterations: dark blue chief, arrows, stars, and scroll gray instead of white.
  5. The military and naval customs mentioned in section 3 result in a 52 x 66 inch (approximately 132 x 168 cm) flag ("color") for indoor and parade use and approximately 7:10 proportions for shipboard and outdoor flagpole hoisting.
Joe McMillan, 19 November 2001

There was quite a debate in the 1880s when the great seal die was recut as to what the arrows should look like, with some scholars insisting that an American bald eagle should be carrying American Indian arrows. I wonder how they could have explained where the eagle could have found both Indian arrows and an olive branch, olives not being native to the United States. Others insisted on pure classicism and lamented that the law required an American rather than a Roman eagle.

In the absence of other guidance, I would expect an arrow "proper" to have a light wood-colored (ash) shaft, a steel-colored barb, and feathers of the artist's choice of colors. But my intention was not to suggest that white is inconsistent with the blazon, merely to clarify the color they actually are.
Joe McMillan, 21 November 2001

There was no single presidential flag until 1916. From 1882 onward, the Navy used a blue flag with the national coat of arms for the President. The artistic rendering of the coat of arms was altered some time between 1885 and 1899 to conform to the pattern on the die of the great seal that was put into service in 1884.

The Army adopted a presidential flag in 1898 that was a complicated pattern of large and small stars and the coat of arms on a red field. This was changed in 1912, when the Army adopted the Navy pattern for hoisting purposes but retained the more complex design (now on a blue field) as a parade color. On both Army and Navy flags, the eagle faced dexter (toward the hoist).

In 1916, President Wilson mandated a single flag design, using the coat of arms as shown on the Presidential seal rather than the great seal. This eagle faced sinister (toward the fly).

In 1945, President Truman approved a redesign of both the presidential seal and flag, with the eagle facing dexter. This brought into use the current flag, with the coat of arms surrounded by a ring of stars equal to the number of states (originally 48, now 50).
Joe McMillan, 29 December 2001

I can inform you that my father (Brooks L. Bloomer) was asked and did re-design the Presidential Flag as requested by Cmdr. Byron McCandless, USN, in 1945.
Douglas Bloomer, 30 September 2015

Colors Used In The Flag

In the book "History if the United States Flag" by Milo Quaife, Melvin Weig, and Roy E. Appleman, they give the complete history of the U.S. Presidential flag. In 1945, the ideal of the current flag, with the stars around the eagle, was first used. July 4th, 1949 was the first date when the 49-star Presidential flag was used. President Eisenhower enacted Executive Order No. 10860 on February 5, 1960, creating the current presidential flag and coat of arms. This what it said about the flag:

Flag base-blue
    Chief-light blue
    Stripes-white and red
    Wings, body, upper legs- shades of brown
    Head, neck, tail-white, shaded gray
    Beak, feet, lower legs-yellow
    Talons-dark gray, white high lights
Arrows- white shaded gray
Olive branch:
    Leaves, stem-shades of green
    Olives-light green
Clouds-white, shaded gray
Scroll-white with gray shadows
The reverse of the flag is a mirror image, but the motto is still readable from left to right. And the dimensions are to be sizes to fit the customs of the military.

Zachary Harden, 10 January 2001

Fringe on Presidential Flags

Fringe on the U.S. Presidential Flag is Silver and Gold as per Executive Order # 10860. Fringe can be either actual gold and silver bullion or as is now done a synthetic substitute. Fringe is used only on Presidential Colors. Flags flown from halyards or fixed flag poles do not get fringe. Fringe has been required on U.S. Presidential flags since 1898. The most recent specification dates from 1960. The fringe is also used on the President's auto flags. In this case however it is white and gold.
James J. Ferrigan III, 25 June 1998

Until the Defense Clothing Factory closed in September 1993, I headed the organization that (among other things) made the hand embroidered personal flags of the President and Vice President of the U.S. Each was completely hand embroidered by seamstresses using a mirror stitch - never seeing the reverse side of the ensign until the obverse was completed. The final sewing step was to attach the imitation gold and silver bullion fringe - made only by a NY company in Long Island. The fringe used to be real gold and silver in "the old days." Even so, we bought the fringe by the five yard piece and the last cost I remember paying was $1996 - for enough to do one flag. We typically made four flags like this each year, and up to ten in an inaugural year. What becomes of them all no one really knows - except I have seen one listed in an estate sale for a major old-time Democratic donor. I wouldn't be surprised if a number of our Chief Executives haven't disposed of them in this manner. I also remember seeing one in an office of a former national security advisor to the Johnson administration, while he was being interviewed on a public TV special.
Frank V., 19 June 1999

49 star version

I have seen the blueprint that was made for the 49 star Presidential Flag, but according to the records at the Institute of Heraldry, none were ever made.
Jim Ferrigan, 3 July 2002

Recently, I helped update the flags on the FDR's White House limousine "The Sunshine Special" ( for the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI.

As we were working on finding a suitable 48-star and a presidential automobile flag of the era to replace the incorrect flags on display with the car, it was found that the Eisenhower presidential library has in its storage official 48-star, 49-star and 50-star presidential flags, the only president to have served under these three different US flags.

Jim Ferrigan's notation above on the presidential flag shows that the Institute of Heraldry shows no 49-star presidential flag ever in production. We do not know the specifics of the Eisenhower 49-star presidential flag, i.e., where it was made, dimensions, etc. However, it is in the library's inventory as of 2017.

Tom Carrier, Chesapeake Bay Flag Association, 27 January 2018