The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Happy Flag Day!
On June 14, 1777 the Continental Congress adopted the stars and stripes as the national flag and on the same day one hundred years later, the first observance of the Flag was held. However, it was not celebrated again on such a scale until 1916, in the midst of World War I, when President Woodrow Wilson pronounced the day Flag Day. Though not officially adopted by Congress as a national holiday until 1949, on June 14, 1916 the Smithsonian’s staff and other government employees enjoyed an early release and headed out to the National Mall to celebrate Flag Day. Each participant, for a cost of 10 cents, received a small American flag and ticket to the enclosure for the celebration. The event included a speech by President Woodrow Wilson, music courtesy of the Marine Corp Band, and flag ceremonies.
As historical artifacts and evidence of the past, flags have always been an important part of the Smithsonian. Some flags are celebrated through exhibition, such as the Star Spangled Banner, or through events such as the one described above. But some of the most intriguing flags or banners at the Smithsonian are the Institution’s own. Not only does the Institution have a flag; but the individual bureaus have banners too.
The bureau banners were designed in 1965 for the celebration of the bicentennial of James Smithson's birth. Each of the thirteen banners was blue with a gold fringe on the upper, lower, and right sides. The center of every one contained a gold sun burst with sixteen alternating straight and wavy rays representing the Smithsonian’s mission of the "increase and diffusion of knowledge." Each bureau had a unique design element in the upper left corner; for example, the National Zoo had an eagle, while the National Portrait Gallery had a silhouette. From lions to dinosaurs, these flags represented the diversity of the staff and the work done at the Smithsonian.