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A High School Kid Designed The American Flag And Got A B-minus On It

Culture | July 4, 2020

Robert Heft, the man who designed the longest running version of America's flag. (blog.scoutingmagazine.org)

Do you dig the American flag? Thank Robert Heft. Through the years the American flag saw multiple variations as our great country added states to the Union. When President Eisenhower took office in ‘53, his administration prepared to add two of the more beautiful states to the country, Alaska and Hawaii. When the American people got wind of a new pattern for their beloved star and stripes, many sent their own ideas. In fact, over 3,000 submissions made their way to the White House in many forms.

They ranged from crayon doodles to hand sewn replicas. But few followed the regulation set by an 1818 law requiring 13 horizontal stripes to represent the original colonies and a white star on the blue field to represent each state. For a school project, one young boy created a fine pattern but his teacher didn’t think much of his attempt.

Nonetheless, he persevered. 

A Tailor Made School Project

One of the cooler looking flag sent to the White House. (Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library)

Naturally, many teachers in the country took advantage of the addition of Hawaii and Alaska as an opportunity to keep their students busy. Elementary students all over the country busted out the crayons and colored pencils, and set to work creating their own version of the beloved stars and stripes. Amazingly, one student named Bob Heft got ahead of the curve and created his 50-star flag when news of a new flag were still rumors. 

A Burgeoning History Buff

Kids come up with the best ideas. (Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library)

In fact, Bob Heft made his flag during his junior year of high school, when his teacher assigned them to “bring in something they made.” Apparently, high school projects back in the ‘50s were fairly flexible. Heft was inspired by the story of Betsy Ross, the woman credited with sewing the first American flag and helping George Washington finish the design for our fledgling country. Heft took his parent’s 48-star flag, made some adjustments, and proudly laid it out for his teacher. Unfortunately, his high school teacher wasn’t very impressed with Heft’s work. 

An Unimpressed History Teacher

Another cool idea from America's youth. (Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library)

Not only was Heft’s teacher not dazzled by his work; he actually criticized the creative youth. “You don’t even know how many states we have,” was the teacher’s response, clearly missing Heft’s entire point that Alaska and Hawaii were coming on board, and an update to the flag was in the works. For his efforts, Heft was given a B- and as any red-blooded American would, he protested. Heft later recalled that "The [goal] is to add [stars] so no one can tell there’s a change in the design." In fact, that was the exact reason why so many of the submissions to the White House were rejected -- they changed the flag too much.

His teacher responded with a challenge that would affect the course of history, “If you don’t like your grade, get it accepted into Washington, then come back…and I might consider changing your grade.” Challenge accepted. 

50 Stars Are Born

Heft even got out ahead of a potential expansion. This is his idea for 51 star flag, with Puerto Rico in mind. (Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library)

For two years Heft wrote, appealed, and pushed his design to as many important people as possible. Eventually, Walter H. Moeller, a state representative from Heft’s home state of Ohio, saw his design and sent it along to the President. Once Hawaii followed Alaska to statehood, Heft got a call from the big man himself, President Eisenhower. The President told him that they had selected his design out of more than a thousand possible designs.

Heft enjoyed a trip to the White House and a ceremony christening his work. They say his teacher even changed his grade, although how someone changes a grade for a project two years after its submission remains a mystery. 

Redesign America

The idea was the flag would show the letters 'USA' no matter what way you looked at it. Unfortunately, it also gives off some Nazi vibes.

One short way to entertain yourself is to check out all the rejected designs for our flag. They ranged from slightly Nazi to downright cool. Unfortunately, almost all of them failed to adhere to the regulations set in 1818. Still some food for thought, what would your American flag look like?

Tags: 4th Of July | Alaska | American Flag | Hawaii

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!