The North Star Flag
A PROPOSAL FOR A NEW MINNESOTA STATE FLAG
From a distance of 100 yards how many Minnesotans can distinguish their state flag from, say, Nebraska's? From 100 feet? Anyone want to try for 10 feet?
It's not that Minnesota has the most prosaic flag of all 50 states. It's that it shares the distinction with more than a dozen others, each content mainly to sew a copy of its state seal in the middle of a blue sheet and then run the thing up a flagpole to see if anyone salutes, or even notices.
That's a shame. The official Minnesota flag needn't compete in splendor with Old Glory. But when displayed with those of other states -- as at the recent Inaugural Day Parade or with the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence in the rotunda of Washington's National Archives building, it ought to stand out enough to catch the eye, and carry enough symbolism to clutch at a loyal Minnesotan's heart.
Instead, the visitor is more likely to see and admire the dazzling hues of Maryland's quartered arms, California's bear flag, Georgia's Confederate battle flag, Texas' proud lone star or Iowa's eagle-emblazoned tricolor. Only the determined eye will pick out Minnesota's flag from among all the other drab, dark-blue look-alikes.
Minnesota used to be somewhat more imaginative. Until 1957, the flag was blue on one side, white on the other. But flags of such design were expensive. So for the last 32 years, the Minnesota flag has been anonymously blue on both sides.
It's time for a change. With the approach of the original state flag's 1993 centennial, a legislative committee has agreed to seek a new design -- something more distinctive and recognizable. One committee member dismissed the proposal as a waste of time. But that's the kind of Philistine thinking that gave Minnesota its present banner. The redesign of the state flag is a good idea that should be treated seriously by legislators, citizens, and flag designers. Minnesotans deserve a state flag they can wave with pride.
Rochester Post-Bulletin (Editorial, March 12,2002):
"Time for new state flag"
A good case can be made for designing a new state flag for
Minnesota. The main reason is that the existing state flag,
adopted in 1893, is poorly designed, according to flag design experts.
It lacks focus, is
too complex and uses symbols that are not relevant to 21st century
Minnesotans. The flag consists of a rectangular blue field with
the state seal at the center. In the center of the state seal is
a Minnesota pioneer plowing
the prairie, with an American Indian horseman riding in the background.
flag bears three dates -- 1858, when Minnesota was admitted to the
1819, when Fort Snelling was established; and 1893, the year the flag
adopted. In addition, there are 19 stars, since Minnesota was the
state admitted to the Union after the first 13.
There are more details, but those are enough to show that the
flag violates the first requirement of a flag design -- simplicity.
Fortunately, a Rochester man, Lee Herold, has been active in
offering a replacement design to a legislative committee. The
committee is headed by state Sen. Ed Oliver of Deephaven, Minn.
Oliver supports a bill that would appoint a task force to select
a new state flag. Herold, who operates Herold Flags in Rochester,
has advised the committee that the Minnesota flag design has been
ranked 67th out of 72 state and provincial flags evaluated by the North
American Vexillogical Association, and organization of flag design
It based the ranking on a poll of 400 flag experts throughout the
Herold says that there are a few key standards for good flag
design. They include simplicity, good use of color,
distinctiveness, differentiation from other flags and "flyability" --
how the flag looks when flying or at rest. The design should be
easy to remember and should have a distinct focus. All of those
characteristics are present in a design presented to the committee by
Herold. It includes a large yellow star on a field of blue, with
a white stripe underneath. Herold said that he hopes the
task force is appointed and that it reviews the subject and chooses a
flag -- whether it is the design that he suggested or another one.
Choosing a new state flag is probably not at the top of the list of urgent needs for most Minnesotans. However, a state flag serves the same purpose as the nation's flag -- a symbol of unity and common purpose. As long as Minnesota has a state flag, it might as well have one that is recognizable and well-designed, not one that is archaic, cluttered, and mostly forgotten. We wish Lee Herold good luck in his effort to have a task force appointed to review the need for a new design.
Mankato Free-Press (Editorial, March 23, 1989):
"We Salute the New, Unique Flag Design"
Do you know what Minnesota's state flag looks like? Don't be embarrassed if you don't; relative few people do. And that's because it's fairly undistinguished, "generic" even. And that's why the proposed new flag design, unfurled before a state House committee last week, deserves serious consideration.
Minnesota's banner has waved in anonymity since 1893, when it was designed -- white on one side and blue on the other, with the state seal in the middle of both sides. In the late 1950's, it was changed to blue on both sides.
There are a couple of problems with that design. First off, it is virtually identical to 20 other states' flags -- 25 if you count the states that use another color instead of blue. Second, everything on the reverse side of the flag is backwards. It declares us to be "atosenniM" and everything looks like it's written in those funny letters the Russians use. Finally, it says nothing about us as a people or about Minnesota as a state. The art on the state seal depicts an Indian fleeing from an armed farmer while apparently showing him an obscene gesture. In the background is a sun setting behind some mountains.
The new design, proposed by a group of people from Rochester, is unique and colorful, and its symbolism celebrates the good things of Minnesota. The basic design involves three horizontal stripes, the top one equal in width to the bottom two. The top two-thirds is blue, for the Land of Sky-Blue Waters (Mini Sotor in Ojibway). The green bottom stripe represents the great northern forests and sprawling southern prairies, the state's great vegetable heritage. The white of the center stripe is for the winters we all endure and survive together. Completing the design is a gold "North Star" in the upper left-hand corner on the blue section.
Other states have striking and unique flags. Alaska's is a tasteful blue with eight stars arranged as the Big Dipper and Pole Star; New Mexico has yellow with an Indian sun symbol. Wyoming has a white buffalo on blue; Indiana has blue with a gold torch. Hawaii's is an eye-popper that looks like a collision between the U.S. and British flags. And there are many more marvelous designs.
The whole point of a flag is to be a symbol, and Minnesota's
flag doesn't do the job. We need a flag with some flash and some
color. We need a flag that's as unique as Minnesota and
Worthington Daily Globe (Editorial, March 21, 1989):
"That Old Flag"
There is not a school child in southwest Minnesota who can draw the Minnesota flag, freehand.
We had better amend that. There are notably gifted children living in southwest Minnesota. But there are few children in Minnesota, few adults in Minnesota, few people anywhere who could make a drawing of the state flag.
It's a complex thing. The Minnesota flag incorporates the state seal, which includes a depiction of a waterfall, a farmer plowing, an Indian riding on a horse, a musket, and a sunset. The state seal is inside a floral wreath which incorporates the dates 1819 (the year Fort Snelling was established), 1858 (the year Minnesota was admitted to the Union), and 1893 (the year the flag was adopted). In addition to this "Minnesota" is neatly lettered into the design. There are four stars near the top, with a larger star signifying the North Star. Then there are four stars over hear, four stars over there, eight stars in two clusters near the bottom.
On and on.
Minnesota's flag seems to be everything a flag should not be. It is something so detailed almost no one can remember all its symbols and symbolism. (It is similar to several other state flags in this regard.) Reproductions are necessarily expensive. And the flag is something few children could describe, much less draw. It is not and it never was a truly satisfactory flag.
This becomes preface, needless to say, for an endorsement of the proposal [...] to dump the old state flag and to adopt a new design [...] with a band of green at the bottom representing Minnesota's farms and forests, a band of white above this to represent snow, and then a band of blue: Minnesota, land of sky-blue water or sky-tinted water. There also is a single gold star, the symbol of the Star of the North [...]
Rep. Gil Gutknecht of Rochester notes not much thought went into Minnesota's original flag, which was hastily designed for an exhibition at Chicago. The first flag was a two-sided flag, with a white background on one side and the blue background on the other. The flag was redesigned in 1957, making both sides blue, but the seal is backward when viewed from the back.
There really is not much to commend the present flag.
all talk about this matter and come up with something new and improved.
Sir John Ross Matheson (deceased):
was a flag author and expert who helped to design Canada's flag while a member of Parliament (holding draft design in 1964 photo above):
I agree with the ten reasons for an updated State Flag.
see them as all valid. In my opinion simplicity is immensely
important -- moreover it carries better, can be recognized for what it
is at a greater distance. I like what you have produced!
All the best in your exciting enterprise. [letter to William
Becker, January 28, 1989]
Dr. Whitney Smith (deceased):
was a flag author and expert who designed the flags of Guyana and the Saudi navy:
If the same kind of attention had been paid years ago to the
flag, Minnesota would not today have the mediocre design and the many
problems associated with its like. Ultimately, design is a matter
of taste and therefore my indication that I find your design a
beautiful one is neither here nor there. From the standpoint of
the professional vexillographer or flag designer, however, I can say
that you have done
all the right things and met all of the appropriate criteria for a good
design. The flag is distinctive, easily recognizable, handsome,
and easy to manufacture. It respects the past and heralds the
-- which is exactly what a flag should do. In brief, I am glad to
extend my endorsement for a new state flag and your efforts to have it
recognized. [letter to William Becker, August 2, 1988]
Mr. William Crampton (deceased):
was a flag author and expert in Britain:
I think that the design could well go forward to the
and I am pleased to be able to give it my personal endorsement. I
hope therefore that the legislators of the state of Minnesota will be
similarly impressed and will give the question of the flag design their
very earnest consideration. A fine state deserves a fine flag,
and we are compelled to say that at the moment the state of Minnesota
is not well served by its flag. [letter to William Becker, March
Mr. William Spangler
was president of Dettra Flag Co. in Oaks, Pennsylvania:
I certainly think that, from an aesthetic point of view, your
proposed design is a great improvement over the current flag and it
give the state of Minnesota a very distinctive and readily identifiable
state symbol. The flag of Minnesota is certainly very similar to
the flags of many other states [...] There can be no denying that a
distinctive and unique design without lettering usually makes for a
more easily recognizable flag. The design which you have proposed
certainly qualifies in
that regard. [letter to William Becker, November 3, 1988]
Additional support has been received from:
Larry Millett (Architecture Columnist, St. Paul Pioneer Press)
Lew Hudson (Columnist, Brainerd Dispatch)
Aaron Brown (Columnist, Hibbing Tribune)
Judith Harrington (Op-Ed, Minneapolis Star-Tribune)