New York State Flag: History, Design, Trivia
DATE FIRST USED
New York State Flag
Blue background with the coat of arms in the center.
Symbols: State coat of arms. The shield shows the sun rising over a mountain beyond a wide river on which two types of sailing ships are about to pass each other. The two ships symbolize local and international commerce. The shield is supported by liberty personified on the right and justice personified on the left. Liberty represents citizens' rights to independence. She has the British crown under her foot, symbolizing independence from Britain. Justice shows the state's commitment to treating all citizens fairly. Above the shield is an eagle perched on a globe. The eagle faces west, according to the official description, and shows the state's position as an economic link between the Old World and the New. Below the shield is a ribbon with the state motto, "Excelsior," or "Ever Upwards."
Colors: Blue, green, red, white, yellow, and brown. The legal description specifies the background color simply as blue, which normally stands for truth and loyalty. The other colors make a realistic picture.
The current flag is essentially the same as the colonial flag, the coat of arms on a blue background. Though the flag has been updated a number of times over the years, its links to the Revolutionary War flags from which it originated are still clear.
In 1896, the New York State flag's background changed, for a brief time, to buff. Major Asa Bird Gardiner, a Civil War hero and very much a military man, was the driving force behind this alteration. He argued successfully that because the facings on George Washington's uniform had been buff-colored and Washington had ordered buff facings in his soldiers' uniforms as well, buff was the most appropriate color for the flag of a state whose origins were so closely connected with the Revolutionary War. The change proved unpopular, though. Blue was the usual color for regimental flags at the time, and in the end custom won out. The flag background was changed back to blue in 1901. Though the state's coat of arms has been slightly modified several times over the years, the flag has flown more or less unchanged ever since.
Generally, state flags are shown the same respect as the national flag, though the national flag always takes precedence. When the New York state flag and the national flag are hoisted on the same pole, the national flag should be above the state flag. The state flag is normally hoisted after the national flag and lowered first. The New York State flag flies or is displayed to the left of the national flag.
New York strongly recommends that state and national flags not be used to express particular causes or opinions, but anyone can fly the flag. It is suggested that the flag be handled with care to avoid damaging it and not be deliberately marked or torn in public. The state flag should not touch the ground, even during hoisting and lowering, and should hang or fly well clear of the ground, floor, or anything beneath it. Flags that become tattered or dirty through normal wear and tear should be replaced and disposed of privately.
LEGENDS, CONTROVERSIES, AND TRIVIA
The origin of the coat of arms is unclear. The sun may have been adopted from Jonas Bronck's coat of arms. Bronck was an important landowner in the New York City area, and the borough of the Bronx is named after him. It is equally possible that it was taken from the medieval emblem of the House of York, which had a badge with a sun on it.
The legal description of the shield on the coats of arms specifies a clear sky and sun over three mountains, and ships about to pass each other on a river. It is generally said, though, that the picture is of Mount Beacon and the Hudson River.
The 3rd New York Regiment in the Revolutionary War carried a flag almost identical to the current New York State flag even before the design was officially adopted.
Though buff proved an unpopular color for the New York State flag, some of the other original states chose this color for their flags. New Jersey's flag has a buff background, and Delaware's flag has a large buff-colored diamond in the middle, both references to the facings on General Washington's coat. Both of these flags were adopted years after the New York flag had switched from blue to buff to blue again.
-World Trade Press