Why the star?
"The North Star" has been Minnesota's official state motto since statehood in 1858, and is inscribed on the state seal in French: "L'étoile du Nord." It was chosen by Gov. Henry Sibley to honor the pioneers who were guided northward to Minnesota,
and was apparently rendered in French to pay tribute to the first explorers of the northern frontier.
In official state flags, the North-Star theme appeared in several distinct ways: in the written motto itself, in the topmost (and largest) of the 19 stars which ring the state seal, and (as intended by the designer) in the "Great Star" pattern ringing the seal - a pattern often found in 19th-century U.S. flags. The proposed flag renders the star in gold in keeping with previous Minnesota flags (a unique feature among state flags), while its prominence recalls the "Great Star" pattern. The pattern and gold color are also evident in U.S. flags carried by Minnesota units in the Civil War.
The North-Star theme appears often in Minnesota, including in the state flag and seal, the State Capitol (especially the rotunda), the Minnesota History Center, the official city flag of Mankato, the Minnesota National Guard JFHQ insignia, etc. The theme also appears in the flags of Alaska and Maine. Single stars appear prominently in the flags of Texas, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Nevada, North Carolina, California, and Massachusetts.
Why the colors?
The combination of blue, white, and green, instinctively recalls our sky-tinted waters, our winter, and our fields and forests. They are evocative northern colors, and appear in the emblems of many Minnesota agencies and towns.
For example, the blue-white-green colors appear in: the state license plate; the logos for the state fair and our state government's "official brand"; the official city flags of Duluth, Mankato, and Bayport; the logos of Albert Lea, Rochester, Waseca, and Moorhead; and the principal entries in separate contests for a new state flag, as sponsored by the St. Paul Pioneer Press
(March 31, 1989) and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which stated:
"We asked readers to suggest a new flag, and we received almost 400 responses. While we can't print them all, it's fair to say most used the colors green, blue or white -- or all three -- and a star, representing the North Star."(Star-Tribune,
March 14, 2000, p. E1)
Why the waves?
In heraldry, a wavy stripe is called a "wavy fess" and represents water. This is ideal for a state with so many lakes and rivers. Not surprisingly, regional Native American pictographs likewise used parallel wavy lines to denote a river or stream. Indeed, the very name "minisota" is a Dakota Sioux word meaning "sky-tinted water" or "cloudy water." Natives are said to have demonstrated it to early settlers by dropping milk into water.
The name was given first to the river, then to the territory, and finally to the state. Heraldry based on such a name is called "canting heraldry." The three wave crests also recall the three great watersheds (Hudson Bay, Atlantic Ocean, and Gulf of Mexico) formed by the unique nexus of two continental divides in northern Minnesota.
Wavy stripes can be found in the Minnesota National Guard JFHQ insignia, as well as the official city flags of Winona and Mankato; and in many flags outside Minnesota, such as those of St. Louis (Missouri), British Columbia, New Brunswick, Vancouver (Canada), and many others.
Why the pattern?
The pattern of the flag -- a star and several horizontal stripes -- evokes the basic pattern of the American flag. The star appears in the "canton," the most visible part of a flag when flying.
The stripes are arranged so that the white band clearly separates blue from green. This respects the rules of heraldry, where softer colors (like white) segregate bolder colors (blue, green), to distinguish each from afar. The lower stripes are slightly “abased” to capitalize on the relative stability of a flag’s lower hoistward area, when flying in the wind.
Who designed the proposed flag?
Two Minnesota "vexillologists" (flag specialists) created the design together in 1989, after reviewing many possible designs. Rev. William Becker and Mr. Lee Herold have lifelong interests in flags. Mr. Herold owns and manages Herold Flags in Rochester. Rev. Becker is a published expert on the state flag with the Minnesota Historical Society, and has written a book on papal flags.
The two collaborated with international experts in creating the design (which they have released to the public domain). These included Sir John Ross Matheson (the "architect" of Canada's flag), Walter Angst (of the Smithsonian Institution), William Crampton (of Britain's Flag Institute), and Dr. Whitney Smith (of the former Flag Research Center in suburban Boston).
The two men appeared before a legislative committee twice in 1989. A bi-partisan endeavor to study changing the state flag (led by Reps. Gil Gutknecht and Wayne Simoneau) was endorsed by a number of state legislators and state newspapers but was unsuccessful. The matter was raised again independently in 2000 and 2002 by Senator Edward Oliver, and his bill continues to resurface. Similar initiatives have been underway in other states.
A draft bill has been composed for the new flag design, including precise design specifications.
Have other designs been proposed?
Yes. Several state flag contests have been held since 1989, by the Star-Tribune (March 14, 2000), Pioneer Press (March 31, 1989 and August 14, 2001), Utne Reader (November-December 2001), and various social media platforms.
Several alternatives are shown at left. The first resembles the Minnesota National Guard JFHQ insignia, and the second is a North Star Flag variant in the national colors (as required in 1893 and proposed in 1957). The third design uses a compass-style north star, and a swallowtail reminiscent of the state's shape.
The fourth design is coincidentally similar to the North Star Flag, but with a star centered in white. It was designed by Marcel Stratton, a former art professor, and won the "new state flag" contest sponsored by the Utne Reader. The fifth design modifies the North Star Flag with a 6-pointed star.
The last four designs (at left) render the North Star variously, and are promoted at various websites, including Minnesotans for a Better Flag, and Change.org.
However no other design rivals the footprint of the North Star Flag. It is the preferred alternative for those wishing to display one. Despite its unofficial status, it can be found at homes, businesses, overseas bases, and elsewhere - including Minnesota United soccer games, where supporters have embraced it (see photos herein), and have even created a variation with the team colors and star (below, at right).