The evolution of Vermont’s state flag through the centuries

Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 4:08 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A century ago -- on June 1, 1923 -- the state of Vermont adopted the current version of the state flag. The royal blue and coat of arms are typically recognizable to Vermonters, but it hasn’t always looked that way.

Royal blue and a coat of arms with the motto “Freedom and Unity.”

“And all those things are sort of little representative examples of what people think of the image of the state of Vermont. You’ve got the Green Mountains, you’ve got agriculture, you’ve got forests,” said Andrew Liptak with the Vermont Historical Society.

Vermont’s state flag is a recognizable symbol of our home and has been for 100 years. but to understand how we landed on this design -- you’ve got to look 220 years into the past... at the first version of the flag, from 1803.

“At the time, two more states had joined the union -- Tennessee and Ohio, 16 and 17. Vermonters assumed that the national flag would expand to 17 stripes and 17 stars, and so they adopted a flag that had 17 red and white stripes, and 17 stars, one for each state in the union,” Liptak said. And on the top stripe, the word “Vermont.”

What the flag lacked in imagination, it made up for in stars. And as more states joined the union, they decided to just keep adding stars to the flag, instead of continually adding stripes. “A quick representation of where we were as a country at that point,” Liptak said.

But in 1837, they came up with a new design. “And instead of stars, they put a version of the state coat of arms in the blue part with an eight-pointed star around it. So, that was the second version,” Liptak said. But he says Vermonters didn’t love it and there was another issue. “When you hung the Vermont flag next to the American flag, you couldn’t really tell the two apart because they both had the same number of stripes and a blue part. It was not easy to pick out.”

In 1923, Liptake says legislators wanted something with a bit more pizzazz. “A lot of Vermonters went to fight in the Civil War. They marched under flags -- regimental flags -- and a lot of those flags had that same design,” he said.

Taking the cue from the regimental flags, Vermont wound up with the flag it has today. Some of those regimental flags are on display at the Statehouse, and the Vermont Historical Society has some of the artist’s prototypes of the original, as well as other state flags that have made their way far outside of the Green Mountains.

“We have one that has been to the top of Mount Everest, from 2006. Somebody brought one up. We have a Vermont flag that was brought to the North Pole, and then we have a pair of flags that went to the moon. They were brought on the Apollo 11 and Apollo 17 missions,” Liptak said.

In the century to come, who knows what the flag will look like, or where it will go?

And here’s one last fun fact to stick your flag into -- the Vermont state flag pre-dates the 50-star version of the American flag, which was adopted 36 years later, in 1959.