Contemplating the Revolutionary War flags that ran the gamut in designs from pine trees in New England to rattlesnakes in the Carolinas, the Continental Congress on June 14, 1777 (commemorated since as Flag Day) passed a resolution creating a flag similar to what we have today. By 1794, the 2nd Congress of the new United States passed the Second Flag Act, making the flag one with 15 stars and stripes for the 15 states then. For the next 23 years, this was the American flag universally flown at land and sea. In fact, only two U.S. flags ever flew longer than this configuration -- the 48-star flag from 1912 to 1959 and the current 50-star version, which will break the previous flag's 47-year record this July 4.
When Key was elated to see his flag over Fort McHenry, he saw the same flag that had played a significant role in events from Oregon to Africa. When Lewis and Clark crossed the continent, they carried this same type of flag, even giving some of them to their American Indian benefactors on the way. Some of these natives may have seen the earlier flag years before on the Pacific Coast when Captain Robert Gray flew it aboard his ship, the Columbia, when he reached present-day Washington and Oregon on his three-year, 42,000-mile voyage around the world. About the same time that Lewis and Clark were proceeding to the west coast of America, the flag was making history on the North African coast. In what was America's first declared war, a combined force of Navy ships and Marine Corps troops defeated Barbary pirates preying on U.S. ships; they hoisted our flag over their stronghold at Derma. It was the first time the U.S. flag had flown over a vanquished foreign enemy's fortress, and the victory has been immortalized in the hymn that Marines sing about fighting "from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli." Closer to home, the same American flag was also flown in the Northwest by John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company during its few years at the forts of Astoria, Okanogan and Spokane, before Astor abandoned them to the British during the War of 1812.
No tale of the American flag would be complete without mention of how Idaho was forgotten in the flag's star cluster after its admission to the union. The Third Flag Act of 1818 had authorized the flag of today, with its field of stars to be increased on the Independence Day after new states were added. After Washington's admission on Nov. 11, 1889, flag makers began production of the 42-star flag for the next year. But then Idaho and Wyoming were admitted as the 43rd and 44th states on July 3 and July 10 of 1890. Getting under the July 4 wire, Idaho was included in the official 43-star flag of 1890. But because so many 42-star flags had been made in the eight-month period since Washington's admission, most flags sold in 1890 were the unofficial 42-star versions.
This year-long neglect, however, pales in comparison to the disregard shown to Idaho by foreign powers. Of all the 50 states, Idaho was the only one that was never claimed, wholly or partly, by any foreign nation prior to becoming a U.S. territory or state, for the reason that no one knew of such a place. When Lewis and Clark entered the state in 1805, they were the first white men, with the possible exception of a few hardy British fur traders, to venture within its borders.
Idaho, then, seems to be the Rodney Dangerfield of states. Being left off the flag, being ignored by foreign countries -- why, it's worse than a barrage of Larry Craig jokes.