June “Archives treasure” #1: U.S. flag from 1889

June “Archives treasure” #1: U.S. flag from 1889

(Photos courtesy of Washington State Archives)

Since June 14 is Flag Day, it’s fitting that our first “contender” in the June “Archives treasures” contest is a historical flag. It’s an original 10’x16’ 42-star U.S. flag from 1889. A portion of this rare flag is shown in the photo above. Archives staff says this flag made of wool gauze with hand-stitched stars  probably was the one draped over the Territorial Capitol Building (photo below) at the inauguration of Elisha P. Ferry, Washington’s first state governor, on Nov. 18, 1889. What’s noteworthy about the U.S. flag having 42 stars back then is that Washington became the 42nd state, thus necessitating the change to the “Stars and Stripes.”

The 42-star flag served as the American flag from Nov. 11, 1889, when Washington was admitted as a state, until July 3, 1890, when Idaho officials reached statehood.

We’ll feature the other two Archives treasures in the next few days.

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5 thoughts on “June “Archives treasure” #1: U.S. flag from 1889

  1. We have a 42 star flag in the State Capitol building.
    It can be viewed on any public tour daily.
    The flag is located in the State Reception room.
    The flag itself was printed not sewn as the one in archives.
    I am thinking it may be a “souvineer” section of the banner
    which you see strung around the Capitol in the photo.

  2. Your statement about the 42 star flag serving as the United States flag from Nov. 11, 1889 until July 3, 1890 is incorrect. Stars are entered to the official U.S. Flag on the Fourth of July of the year. The official U.S. flag jumped from a 38 star flag (the number of States on July 4, 1889) to a 43 star flag (the number of states in the Union on July 4, 1890). During that time, five states came into the Union (North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Washington and Idaho).

  3. Was a 42-star flag produced for nation-wide display NOV 11, 1889 – JUL 3, 1890, or did the national flag go from 38 to 43 stars? I understand that July 4 is the date changes to the national flag are initiated. Was the 42-star flag flown only in WA state?

  4. Donald and Steph bring up a good point about the 42-star U.S. flag. I didn’t say the 42-star flag was the “official” flag back then. I should have noted that in my blog post, based on what is written below from rareflags.com. http://rareflags.com/RareFlags_Showcase_IAS_00276.htm Here is the rareflags.com info:

    Beginning with the Third Flag Act of 1818, the tradition of adding a star for each new state added to the Union became the customary of updating the American Flag. Under unusual circumstances, some star counts on American flags are considered “Unofficial”. This is a result of the guidelines specified by the Third Flag Act for adding new stars to the flag. The act of 1818 decreed that upon “the admission of every new state into the Union, one star be added to the union of the flag; and that such addition shall take effect of the fourth day of July then next succeeding such admission.” On a few rare occasions, however, more than one state was added to the Union within the same year, prior to the 4th of July. Such was the case when Washington State entered the Union on November 11, 1889. At the time, 38 stars was still the official star count on the American Flag. North Dakota and South Dakota entered the Union on November 2, 1889, bringing the count from 38 to 40. Just 6 days later, on November 2, 1889, Montana became the 41st state, and then, just 3 days later, on November 11, 1889, Washington State became number 42. For 243 days, the United States had 42 states, but just one day before Washington State’s 42 would have become official, on July 3, 1890, Idaho entered the Union as the 43rd state. Consequently, the 42 star flag representing Washington Statehood never became official, despite having a period of 243 days with 42 states. Flag manufacturers often disregarded the “official” star count, and produced flags and sold flags that were current regardless of the official national star count.

  5. I understand that a person purchased a box at a blind auction (I seem to recall it was unclaimed freight) and when opened it turned out to be full of 42 star flags. More than likely manufactured by one of the companies mentioned above. I heard that this person would donate a single flag to a group for fund raising from time to time.
    It would be good to know for sure about this rumor…….Someone mentioned band uniform purchase for an Eastern Washington high school….bui I only heard that once.

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