Since George Washington probably never said “I cannot tell a lie,” he never had the opportunity to say “I cannot tell another lie.” But if he could, he’d probably deny being the art director of the American flag. He probably did not even commission the seamstress Betsy Ross. She was not the designer of the flag, but legend has it that George Washington himself approached Ms. Ross in 1777 and asked her to create a flag from a sketch he drew.
Sadly, there is no record of this and the story was not revealed for 94 years and then by Ms. Ross’ grandson, William J. Canby.
The famous flag with a circle of stars was actually designed, we’re told, by Charles Weisgerber, for his painting, “Birth of Our Nation’s Flag” (above). This painting was eventually copied into American History books, but its factual-ness is dubious.
For the true origin theory, it is said that Francis Hopkinson, a Congressman from New Jersey (below bottom, writing his invoice), was the true designer of the flag according to the journals of the Continental Congress. Personally, I’d like to believe George Washington was the father of graphic design in this country and (below top) the first design critic. (“Betsy, can you make the blue more blue and the stars 10pts. larger?”)
About Steven Heller
Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →