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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
805 KIDDER BREESE SE -- WASHINGTON NAVY YARD
WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060
Origins of the U.S. Navy Flag
The Department of the Navy Seal,
created in 1957, was to serve as the main feature of the official
United States Navy flag, adopted two years later. The flag did
not pass through an evolutionary development as was the case with
the Navy seal.
Ships of the earliest period in the Nation's naval history
wore a variety of flags, including the striped Grand Union, and
those bearing a pine tree or rattlesnake. However, these various
banners may be considered steps in the genesis of the national
ensign, the "Stars and Stripes," rather than forebears
of a specific flag for the Navy.
Toward the end of the nineteenth century the Infantry Battalion
flag (above left) was introduced for use by naval landing forces.
This was a blue flag with a white diamond shaped device in the
center and a blue foul anchor superimposed on the diamond. For
more than sixty years, the Infantry Battalion flag served as the
unofficial Navy flag in drill formations and parades and at other
ceremonies. An official Navy flag, truly representative of the
Navy's operating forces at sea, was authorized by Presidential
order 24 April 1959:
The flag for the United States Navy is 4 feet 4 inches hoist
by 5 feet 6 inches fly, of dark blue material, with yellow fringe,
2 1/2 inches wide. In the center of the flag is a device 3 feet
1 inch overall consisting of the inner pictorial position of the
seal of the Department of the Navy (with the exception that a
continuation of the sea has been substituted for the land area),
in its proper colors within a circular yellow rope edging, all
2 feet 6 inches in diameter above a yellow scroll inscribed "United
States Navy," in dark blue letters.
Unlike the national ensign, commission pennant, union jack,
and admiral's broad pennant which fly from gaff, mast, or staff
on board naval vessels, the flag of the United States Navy is
reserved for display purposes and is carried by an honor guard
on ceremonial occasions.
15 July 1996