Editor’s note: The Trivia Geek is taking a little time off to celebrate CNET Networks’ 10th anniversary, so we’ve pulled this Classic Geek, which originally ran on June 30, 2004, from our archives to tide you over until next week. Look for a fresh batch of Geek Trivia on June 29, 2005.

Generations of American schoolchildren have heard the tale
of Betsy Ross, “inventor” of the U.S. flag, only to face the
adulthood disillusionment that, if anything, Ross was merely the seamstress—not
the creator—of Old Glory. And she may not even have been responsible for that.

We can attribute the origin of Betsy Ross’s legend to her grandson,
William J. Canby, who recounted the story of his grandmother’s creation of the
first official American flag to the Pennsylvania Historical Society in 1870.
But while some have sworn affidavits attesting the accuracy of Canby’s account,
no credible evidence can substantiate the claim.

Despite this lack of evidence, Charles H. Weisgerber’s “The Birth
of Our Nation’s Flag
” reinforced the notion of Betsy Ross as
America’s first flag maker. The painting depicts Ross devotedly sewing a
13-starred American flag in the presence of George Washington, a scene that likely
never occurred in history.

While Ross was certainly an acquaintance of Washington, and
there’s significant evidence to suggest she sewed, but didn’t design the first
American flag, the flag itself in the painting is anachronistic. Weisgerber
depicts the 13 stars arranged in a circle, a design that never appeared on any
sanctioned flag until well after Ross’s era—let alone the first version
commissioned by Congress.

Nonetheless, “The Birth of Our Nation’s Flag” found
its way into American history textbooks for generations, cited as an example of
historical fact, when such was never the case.

The person who most likely developed the flag that Betsy
Ross may or may not have sewed was New Jersey Congressman Francis Hopkinson, credited
in the journals of the Continental Congress as the designer of the flag. So why
is there any doubt that he designed America’s first sanctioned flag?

Hopkinson never received payment for his work, despite
several efforts to the contrary. This denial of payment, if true, becomes even
more outrageous when one realizes how little Hopkinson demanded in exchange for
his efforts.


What price did N.J. Congressman Francis Hopkinson request
for his design of the first U.S. flag, a payment he never received despite his
listing in the journals of the Continental Congress as the flag’s true

In a 1780 letter to the Board of Admiralty, Hopkinson submitted
a list of symbols and ornaments he claimed to have designed—including the U.S.
flag and the Great Seal of the United States—and asked for “a quarter cask
of the public wine” as compensation. The board denied his request, and so
began a long, entangled battle between Hopkinson and the board for payment,
which he never received.

Resolution finally came in 1781, when Congress demanded the
Board of Admiralty act on Hopkinson’s claim. The board responded by claiming it
had consulted several sources on the design of the U.S. flag, but no one design
was the entire basis for the final version. Thus, the board claimed, no one—Hopkinson
included—deserved compensation.

The reasons why the board refused to pay Hopkinson aren’t
totally clear, but they seem to have been largely political in nature. Though
Hopkinson was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, records indicate he
had many rivals in the early American government, which may have played a role
in his denial of payment, however small the sum.

Ironically, this whole affair played out years after
Congress passed the Flag Resolution of June 14, 1777, which stated that “the
flag of the United States be made of thirteen stripes, alternate red and white;
that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new
constellation.” The government would not decide either the dimensions of
the flag or the arrangement of its stars until 1912, when President William
Howard Taft signed an Executive Order setting out specifications for the flag’s
design, including six rows of eight stars with five points each, with one point
of the stars facing upward.

Indeed, between 1795 and 1818, Congress required the U.S.
flag to have 15, not 13, stripes—one for each state in the Union during that
period. It was not until after 1818 that it adopted the “one star for each
state” standard, and the flag thus returned to 13 stripes, one for each of
the original American colonies.

That was the last Congressional Act passed pertaining to the
flag’s design. All other revisions have come from three Executive Orders.

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The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a
questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it
in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the
best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek

This week’s quibble comes from the May 18 edition of Geek
Trivia, “Episode
0: The Unseen Influence.”
TechRepublic member Chaz_C had a question about the prologue title for the original Star Wars.

“Some sites indicate that Star Wars was the theatrical title and A New Hope was added for the video release—so my question is this:
Did A New Hope appear at the top of
the prologue in the theatrical version?”

As always, the Wikipedia
is there for me and you: “The designation of Episode IV: A New Hope comes from the heading of the introductory
text of the opening title, but it appeared beginning with the 1981 re-release,
in order to be consistent with The Empire
Strikes Back
(and the eventual sequels and prequels that followed since).”

This is because 20th Century Fox wouldn’t allow these words
in the screen crawl for the original release, fearing it would lead to
confusion. Keep those quibbles coming!

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The Trivia Geek, also
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