The North Star Flag




"Designers Opportunity," St. Paul Daily Globe, Feb. 13, 1893
"The state's banner," St. Paul Daily Globe, Mar. 31, 1893
"Which State Flag?", Minneapolis Star, Mar. 13, 1957
▪ Editorial, "Tell it like it was," St. Paul Dispatch, Nov. 22, 1968
▪ Austin Wehrwein, "Is bad art good history?" Op-Ed, Minneapolis Star, Nov. 26, 1968
▪ Robert Whereatt, "Changing state seal expensive," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Nov. 28, 1968
"Minnesota's New State Seal," Minneapolis Star Tribune, Nov. 11, 1983
▪ Grant Moos, "Idea for new flag unfurled for state lawmakers," Rochester Post Bulletin, Mar. 16, 1989
"State Flag," Session Weekly, Minn. House of Reps., Mar. 17, 1989, p. 1
▪ Associated Press, "Proposed new state flag unfurled," Brainerd Daily Dispatch, Mar. 17, 1989
▪ Gary Dawson, "2-headed loon banner is run up the flagpole," St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 17, 1989
▪ Grant Moos, "Plan to change state flag gets nothing but negative reaction," Rochester Post Bulletin, Mar. 21, 1989
▪ Bill Salisbury, "New flag idea off mast; just wasn't a banner idea," St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 21, 1989
▪ Editorial, "Minnesota should have a flag worth waving," Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mar. 21, 1989
▪ Editorial, "That old flag," Worthington Daily Globe, Mar. 23, 1989
▪ Editorial, "We Salute the New, Unique Flag Design," Mankato Free-Press, Mar. 23, 1989
▪ Grant Moos, "New flag may fly with lawmakers this time," Rochester Post Bulletin, Sept. 12, 1989
▪ Robert Whereatt, "Any salutes for a new state flag?" Minneapolis Star Tribune, Sept. 16, 1989
▪ John Weiss, "Idea of new flag flies with panel," Rochester Post Bulletin, Sept. 16, 1989
▪ Associated Press, "New state flag proposal aired," Albert Lea Tribune, Sept. 17, 1989
▪ Bruce Watson, "Wind enhances Old Glory," Rochester Post Bulletin, Sept. 23, 1989
▪ Lew Hudson, "New flag supported at hearing," Brainerd Dispatch, Sept. 28, 1989
▪ Grant Moos, "New Wave," Minnesota Monthly, Nov. 1989
▪ Mark Metzler, "New state flag is labor of love for Winona woman," Winona Daily News, Nov. 6, 1989.
"Group seeks new state flag," Baudette Region, Aug. 8, 1990.
"Few Salutes for a new Minnesota state flag," Session Weekly, Minn. House of Reps., Jan. 11, 1991.
▪ William Becker, "Speaking of state flags," Op-Ed, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 12, 2000
▪ Conrad deFiebre, "... Senator raises the banner for a new state flag," Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 29, 2000
▪ Associated Press, "State Flag: Measure would simplify flag," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Feb. 29, 2000
▪ Graydon Royce, "Run them up the pole," Contest, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Mar. 14, 2000
▪ Associated Press, "You're not a grand old flag, group says," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Jun. 21, 2001
▪ Larry Millett, "Not much to keep interest from flagging," St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 25, 2001
▪ Molly Millett, "Flag of a Different Color," Contest, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Aug. 14, 2001
▪ Jessica Coulter, "Brand new flags!" Contest, Utne Reader, Nov.-Dec. 2001
▪ Lenora Chu, "Momentum builds for new state flag," Rochester Post Bulletin, Feb. 19, 2002
▪ Glenn Tornell, "It’s a Grand New Flag," The Forum, Feb. 19, 2002
▪ Rachel E. Stassen-Berger, "Senator says state flag needs makeover," St. Paul Pioneer Press, Feb. 20, 2002
▪ Associated Press, "Measure would give state flag a makeover," Minneapolis Star Tribune, Feb. 20, 2002
"State flag redesign," Session Weekly, Minn. House of Reps., Mar. 1, 2002, p. 12
▪ Editorial, "Time for new state flag," Rochester Post Bulletin, Mar. 12, 2002
▪ Editorial, "Keep century-old state flag despite vexillologist gripes," Duluth News Tribune, Mar. 28, 2002
"New MN state flag?" video interview with Bill Wesen, MN Stories, April 6, 2009
▪ Andy Sturdevant, "Downtown's flags," Architecture Column, MinnPost, Mar. 14, 2012
▪ Cory Zurowski, "Does Minnesota need a new state flag?" City Pages, Feb. 12, 2015
▪ Aaron Brown, Time to retire state’s ‘flag by committee’, Column, Hibbing Tribune, Feb. 22, 2015
▪ Judith Harrington, As long as we're discussing flags, what about Minnesota's? Op-Ed, Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 2, 2015
▪ Bob Collins, "Is it time to ditch the Minnesota flag?" in News Cut, MPR News, July 2, 2015
▪ Stephen Saupe, "Here's a proposal for a new Minnesota state flag design," St. Cloud Times, Jun. 10, 2016
▪ Jay Boller, "Petition seeks to change Minnesota's 'shameful' state flag, offers 9 alternatives," City Pages, Mar. 24, 2017
▪ Michael Weingartner, "Does Minnesota's State Flag Need a Reboot?" Minnesota Tonight, July 7, 2017
▪ David Gillette, “Redesigning Minnesota’s State Flag,” & "Preview," TPT Almanac, Twin Cities Public Television, Mar. 28, 2018
▪ Kevin Dragseth, "The Great Seal of Minnesota," in "Who made Minnesota the Gopher State?", TPT Originals, 2020.
▪ Deevon Rahming, "Lawmakers discuss re-design of Minnesota state flag,", KARE 11 News, Feb. 13, 2020
▪ Dave Orrick, "New MN flag?" St. Paul Pioneer Press, Feb. 14, 2020
▪ Rubén Rosario, "On ... waving a new flag," Column, St. Paul Pioneer Press, Mar. 1, 2020
▪ Mark Grindy, "Racist state flags need to go – Minnesota's is next," Op-Ed, Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 3, 2020
"Time for a rebrand?" Session Weekly, Minn. House of Reps., Mar. 22, 2022
▪ John Croman, "Minnesota lawmakers ponder changing flag and seal,", KARE 11 News, Mar. 23, 2022
▪ Mohamed Ibrahim, "Lawmakers push to redesign Minnesota state flag and seal", Associated Press, Mar. 24, 2022
"Minnesota lawmakers pushing to change state flag and seal,", WCCO Radio, Mar. 24, 2022
▪ Alex Derosier, "A subject of criticism," Rochester Post Bulletin, Mar. 27 (or web version, Mar. 25), 2022
▪ Editorial, "Is it time for a new state flag/seal?", Pope County Tribune, March 28, 2022
"Plethora ... packed into omnibus ... bill," Session Weekly, Minn. House of Reps., April 6, 2022
▪ Emma Nelson, "Some Minnesota legislators want to rethink state flag" Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 9, 2022
▪ Caroline Cummings, "New State Flag? Proposal ... To Change It," WCCO TV, April 13, 2022
▪ Jennifer Brooks, "Oh say can you see a better flag for Minnesota," Column, Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 23, 2022
▪ Tim Nelson, "Push to change Minnesota state flag gains traction, faces headwinds," MPR News, April 27, 2022
▪ Bill Werner, "MN Senate says 'no' to redesigning state flag," Minnesota News Network, May 3, 2022
▪ Editorial, "Our View: Minnesota flag needs an update," Mankato Free Press, May 3, 2022
“Will Minnesota Reflag?” American History, Autumn 2022, p. 10

Saint Paul Pioneer Press
(Newspaper Contest, August 14, 2001)
"Flag of a Different Color"

It seems many Minnesotans agree with flag scholars who recently declared our state's flag one of the nation's ugliest. In response to that troubling national report, the Pioneer Press asked readers to submit their designs for a new, improved flag .... We thank all who submitted designs. Here are the winners – one best overall, plus winners in each of three age groups.

Best Overall: The Rev. William Becker of Austin, Minn., and Lee Herold of Rochester, Minn. Herold and Becker believe Minnesota needs a vibrant flag that speaks to Minnesotans as powerfully as the U.S. flag speaks to all Americans (Becker, of Queen of Angels Church in Austin, is an expert on the state flag with the Minnesota Historical Society).

In 1989, Becker and Herold appeared before the Minnesota Legislature twice to discuss creating a new flag. This flag, what they call "the North Star banner," was the design they presented. But it was not adopted by the state.

Now, the men hope their ode to Minnesota will receive renewed attention. They say their flag has multiple meanings: the North Star recalls the state motto, adopted by the pioneers; gold is for our state's natural wealth; blue is for our lakes and rivers; the waves illustrate the Indian name "minisota" (meaning sky-tinted water) and the "land of 10,000 lakes"; white is for our winter; green is for our farmland and forests.

Minneapolis Star Tribune
(Editorial, March 21, 1989)
"Minnesota Should Have a Flag Worth Waving"

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, ... 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. The flag bears three dates – 1858, when Minnesota was admitted to the union; 1819, when Fort Snelling was established; and 1893, the year the flag was adopted. In addition, there are 19 stars, since Minnesota was the 19th 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, an organization of flag design experts. It based the ranking on a poll of 400 flag experts throughout the world.

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 new 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"

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 [correction - in Dakota]). 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 current 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 Minnesotans.

Mankato Free-Press
(Editorial, May 3, 2022)
"Our View: Minnesota flag needs an update"

Most people understand that the Confederate flag carries with it a terrible history of representing slavery and doesn’t have a place in society, outside a museum.

We suspect most Minnesotans haven’t paid close attention to the meaning of our state flag. If they do, they will realize it, too, carries a terrible symbolism.

The flag, first unfurled in 1893, has a large white circle with a copy of the state seal in the middle. The seal has a picture of a settler plowing a field and a Native American on horseback — maybe being driven away, maybe escaping.

The image of the pioneer man shows him looking peaceful as he plows, but with his rifle nearby. The Native American, on the other hand, has a spear in his hand, indicating he may still want to fight.

The meaning of the scene — that the remaining Indigenous people should be driven out while the settlers enjoy the riches of the land — was made clear by a poem penned by Mary Eastman, spouse of the Fort Snelling soldier who designed the seal.

MPR News reports that the poem urged the “red man” to flee all the way to the Pacific coast.

There is some progress in the Legislature to have the state create a new flag, although there is always some pushback when it comes to changes like this. It’s obvious the time has come for the flag to be redesigned.

This also could be an opportunity to give our flag a lot more pizazz. As it is, our state flag is quite boring. Seen from the ground, people don’t really see anything but a big white circle. Looking at it, there’s nothing that jumps out to say “Minnesota.”

When people rank the best to worst state flags, ours usually ends up in the bottom quarter or so.

New Mexico’s state flag colors are the red and yellow of old Spain, with a simple, elegant center design that is the ancient Zia sun symbol. Alaska’s flag features a blue field representing the Alaska sky and stars in the form of the Big Dipper, with a larger North Star on top, representing the most northerly state.

Like many other state flags, they celebrate the people, history and pride of their residents.

Minnesota has a rich and deep history and many natural wonders that could be incorporated into a new flag. Certainly people could come up with all sorts of ideas for an image on a new flag that would be simple and impactful and show something unique to our state that we could all be proud of.

The racist relic on our state flag needs to be done away with, and it’s the Legislature’s job to make sure it happens.

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. Let's all talk about this matter and come up with something new and improved.

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 state 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, symbolic, and easy to manufacture. It respects the past and heralds the future – 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 officially recognized. [letter to William Becker, August 2, 1988]

Mr. William Crampton (deceased) was a flag author and expert in Britain. He founded and directed the Flag Institute, which remains in operation today:

I think that the design could well go forward to the legislature, 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 28, 1988]

Mr. William Spangler was president of the former 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 would 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]

Sir John Ross Matheson (deceased) was the architect of Canada's flag while a member of Parliament (holding draft design in 1964 photo, at left, composed by Alan Beddoe). He combined a conceptual sketch by George Stanley with variations suggested by graphic artists George Bist (proportions) and Jacques St. Cyr (the rendering of the leaf). The result is today's Maple Leaf Flag:

I agree with the ten reasons for an updated State Flag. I 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]

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