What do the stars and stripes on the United States flag mean?

When the first United States flag was adopted in 1777, it had 13 alternating red and white stripes (seven red, six white) and, in the upper left portion, 13 white stars on a blue background. The number 13 was chosen because that was the number of original states that formed the United States. For several years after that design was adopted, a new stripe and a new star were added each time a new state joined the Union, but in 1818 Congress decided to keep the number of stripes at 13 and simply add a new star for each new state. The U.S. flag has several nicknames: the Stars and Stripes, the Star-Spangled Banner, and Old Glory.

At the time the U.S. flag was designed, the stars and stripes (and the colors of each) were given no specific meaning. The ideas for the design most likely were based on other countries’ flags. In 1782, when the national seal was designed and the flag was incorporated into it, national leaders decided that each color and symbol should have a meaning. As reported in the book Our Flag, published by the U.S. House of Representatives in 1989, it was decided that red symbolized “hardiness [strength] and valour bravery”; white symbolized “purity and innocence”; and blue represented “vigilance, perseverance, and justice.” It has also been said that the stars are symbols of the heavens, and the stripes represent rays of light coming from the Sun.