Every day is Flag Day for Obama. He has his own flag, after all.

Flag Day marks the day that America's forefathers adopted the stars and stripes. But perhaps less well known is the fact that presidents have had their own flag since the 1800s.

Yes, we know that's President Obama on the phone in the Oval Office. But what Decoder really cares about is that flag behind him. It's the presidential flag, which, sadly, does not yet have its own Flag Day.

Here’s a fun Flag Day fact: Barack Obama has his own banner.

Well, it’s not his personally. It’s the president’s, as in, whoever happens to be president of the US at the time.

Yes, there is an official presidential flag of the US. And it has its own history, unrelated to that of the Stars and Stripes.

IN PICTURES: Celebrating the American flag

Hold it just a second, you say. It isn’t enough that presidents get a free house, and a bulletproof limo, and helicopter rides to Camp David on the weekend? They get a flag, too? Since when did the US become the Duchy of Grand Fenwick?

Hold on. The point is, for purposes of protocol, the presidential flag indicates the presence of the chief executive. It’s a vestige of military practice, in which the flags of various commanders would indicate where they and their divisions were.

Army-Navy game

The president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, after all. And that’s how the US presidential flag got started. The Navy wanted a flag to indicate the presence of the president aboard a ship.

Throughout the 1800s, the Navy switched back and forth among various designs, some based on the national flag, some not. Finally, in 1882, the Navy Department issued a general order that fixed the banner: a blue background with the coat of arms of the United States in the center.

Chester Arthur – who was president at the time – personally gave his OK. He flew the flag from the presidential yacht, the USS Dolphin.

The Army wanted something different, of course. (Interservice rivalry and all.) So in 1898 they introduced a presidential flag that featured the seal of the US, inside a blue star, which in turn was surrounded by scattered white stars, on a red background.

In 1916, Woodrow Wilson ordered that the services had to use the same presidential flag. So, via presidential executive order, they adopted another design: the presidential seal on a blue background, with four white stars in the corners.

FDR's stars

FDR (who was really interested in this stuff, being a former Navy person) thought the four stars weren’t enough, after the US started creating five-star generals and admirals in World War II. This resulted in the design still in use today: the presidential seal, with its ring of white stars, on a plain blue background.

Appropriately, this flag first flew aboard the aircraft carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt following FDR’s death.

Today the presidential flag is a common site in movies and TV shows that involve presidential scenes. You have to look quick to see it though – it’s one of the flags that flutters from the front of the limo when the president is shown driving around.


of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.