Designing the Red, White, and Blue

Betsy Ross is credited with sewing the first American flag. But General George Washington is said to be its designer (or at least the art director of it).

Washington wrote: “We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her. And the white stripes shall go down to posterity [as] representing liberty.”

Many designers subsequently used a red-white-and-blue color palette. For instance, in 1933 Charles T. Coiner (1898–1989), the art director of N.W. Ayer advertising agency, was asked to design a symbol for the National Recovery Administration (NRA), the federal agency created to stimulate industrial and economic recovery.

“His Blue Eagle design, which he sketched on a flight to Washington, DC, was displayed by businesses all across the United States and as its much publicized creator, Coiner became something of a household name,” notes the 2004 AIGA Medal citation. He was also responsible for the iconic Civil Defense triangle (alas, the use of triangles as Nazi concentration camp inmate markings was discovered much later.)

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For more Steven Heller, don’t miss his upcoming DesignCast, “Researching Design History: From a Personal Perspective,” streaming live on Wednesday, June 27.

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