How to fold state flags


As a lifelong Boy Scout and Scouter, I have lived with flag etiquette so long as I can remember. One of the key parts of flag etiquette with the U.S. flag is the proper folding, done to allow the flag to unfurl neatly when hoisted on a lanyard. (I have earlier discussed the meaning of folding the flag, or rather, the lack of meaning, here, here, and here.)

Several people wrote to ask about etiquette for folding state flags. Whenever I’ve been involved in ceremonies involving state flags, we have used the same fold prescribed for the U.S. flag, for the same reason — it allows the flags to neatly unfurl when they are posted. I have found several sites that urge a different fold for state flags, to preserve some uniqueness of the U.S. flag folding, but of course, that rather avoids the fact that the method used for the U.S. flag is just old ship tradition.

It seemed likely to me that some state had a special fold, however — and sure enough, I’ve found one. Ohio’s flag is not a rectangle, but is instead a tapered banner with two tails. In 2005, as an Eagle Scout project, Ohio Scout Alex Weinstock from Ohio’s Junction City Troop 260 devised a folding method for Ohio’s flag that ends with with 17 folds — appropriate to Ohio’s being the 17th state admitted to the union.

The fold is not easy — flag professionals call it “tricky.” (See a diagram here, from the Muskingumm Valley Council, BSA, in .pdf.)

Ohio’s flag is the only one of the state flags that is not a rectangle. So far as I have found, it is the only one with any suggested method of folding that differs from the method used for the U.S. flag — but my searches may have missed an odd law here or there.

If you know of other special folding methods, please leave a note in comments, or e-mail me.

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17 Responses to How to fold state flags

  1. John Ringo says:

    In reference to Mr. McDowell’s comment above, Army Regulation 670-1, “Wear and Appearance of Army Uniforms and Insignia,” updated most recently September 5, 2003, addresses explicitly the proper and lawful placement of the U.S. flag patch on the Army uniform.

    The regulation states that when authorized for application to the proper uniform the American flag patch is to be worn, right or left shoulder, so that “the star field faces forward, or to the flag’s own right. When worn in this manner, the flag is facing to the observer’s right, and gives the effect of the flag flying in the breeze as the wearer moves forward. The appropriate replica for the right shoulder sleeve is identified as the ‘reverse side flag’.” In other words, if the flag were displayed “properly” it would give the appearance the troop was retreating. However, the BSA is NOT a military organization nor does it wish to be confused with one. The BSA guidelines state that the wearing of the American flag on the uniform is OPTIONAL, but if worn is to be displayed as if viewing the flag from afar. No Scout or Scouter is obligated to charge in to battle in defense of his or her country

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  2. Ed Darrell says:

    Meagan, you don’t say what state you’re from.

    I believe Ohio is the only state that has a prescribed folding for the state flag (see the post above). If you’re in Ohio, you’ve got an interesting, but maybe vexing task.

    For all other flags, in every honor guard I’ve worked in or with, we’ve folded the state flag in the same manner as the U.S. flag. It’s an old, traditional navy flag-folding scheme that allows the flag to unfurl nicely, and without tangles, when hoisted the next day. A couple of the state flags, like Alabama’s, are not quite the same proportions, so they would fold a little bit differently — but the principle is the same.

    Thank you for honoring the flag as you do. I hope you keep that sort of pride. Are you a Girl Scout, or a Venture Scout? Could you let us know the name of your town, and state?

    Thank you.

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  3. Meagan Turner says:

    Hi, Im an 8th grader with the honor of putting up the flag in the mornings and taking it down and folding. I love doing it and hold it in high respect.

    Recently they started me on putting up the state flag, too. I have no idea how to fold it up. Any help is appreciated.
    Thanks- Meagan

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  4. Lord Timothy McDowell says:

    Just a thought for a Eagle looking for a project,how about getting the BSA to correct the flag patch that they wear wrong(the field is toward the foward direction of movement on a movable object)It has been worn backwards forever,my son got out as a Life and did not wear his wrong,as a vetran,civil servant and scout of thirteen years i explained the correct method to him and he changed his shirts…LT

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  5. John says:

    Hi there. Outstanding blogging, thanks for your incisive polemics. I’m curious about the true origin of the triangular folding method–is there a specific “earliest recorded reference” in a particular work somewhere? It would be nice to have a citation to point to that lays down, in no uncertain terms, that the origin of the method is utilitarian and preferred because it permits rapid flag identification and hoisting.

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  6. [...] And, by the way, if you are curious about how to properly fold the Ohio state flag, or any other state flag, you’ll find links to the instructions courtesy of Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub, here. [...]

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  7. Ed Darrell says:

    Yes, you read it correctly. The current dimensions for the flag were locked in only in the middle 20th century; I’ve tried the fold on other shapes, and it works very well on most of them. That the fold, in this case, ends up in a blue, starred triangle, is a bit of coincidence. Such a fold creates a triangle on any flag. If you invert one fold of the U.S. flag, you get a red and white striped triangle.

    Having had to endure the pain of flags not unfurling as they went up the pole at a couple of camps, let me urge that all Scouts learn the fold, and apply it to any flag to be hoisted. It’s like the square not — very useful in many places, despite its symbolism to Scouters who wear collections of them over their left pockets.

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  8. James Lehman says:

    Dear Ed Darrell: I am a Scouter from MD. Among other things, I am a Unit Commissioner and the First Assistant Everything Else for our Cub Scout Day Camp. (good wife is the Camp Director). One of our activities is teaching Flag Courtesy. I am interested in the origin of the US flag folding method. Do I read the above correctly that the triangle fold is merely an old Brit Royal Navy method adapted? The propotions of the US flag seem to lend themselves so well to the creation of the blue starred ‘cocked hat’.
    Thank you for your efforts.

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  9. Ed Darrell says:

    The POW flag is official by a joint resolution from Congress, H.J. Res. 467 from the 101st Congress (1989-1990):
    http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c101:H.J.RES.467.ENR:

    Here’s the text:

    One Hundred First Congress of the United States of America

    AT THE SECOND SESSION

    Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the twenty-third day of January,

    one thousand nine hundred and ninety

    Joint Resolution

    Designating September 21, 1990, as `National POW/MIA Recognition Day’, and

    recognizing the National League of Families POW/MIA flag.

    Whereas the United States has fought in many wars;

    Whereas thousands of Americans who served in those wars were captured by the enemy or listed as missing in action;

    Whereas many American prisoners of war were subjected to brutal and inhuman treatment by their enemy captors in violation of international codes and customs for the treatment of prisoners of war, and many such prisoners of war died from such treatment;

    Whereas many of these Americans are still missing and unaccounted for, and the uncertainty surrounding their fates has caused their families to suffer acute hardship; and

    Whereas the sacrifices of Americans still missing and unaccounted for and their families are deserving of national recognition and support for continued priority efforts to determine the fate of those missing Americans: Now, therefore, be it

    Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

    SECTION 1. DESIGNATION OF NATIONAL POW/MIA RECOGNITION DAY.

    September 21, 1990, is hereby designated as `National POW/MIA Recognition Day’. The President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the people of the United States to recognize that day with appropriate ceremonies and activities.

    SEC. 2. RECOGNITION OF NATIONAL LEAGUE OF FAMILIES POW/MIA FLAG.

    The National League of Families POW/MIA flag is hereby recognized officially and designated as the symbol of our Nation’s concern and commitment to resolving as fully as possible the fates of Americans still prisoner, missing and unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, thus ending the uncertainty for their families and the Nation.

    I have not found anything about folding or retirement etiquette in the law.

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  10. Jason, a Life Scout says:

    I did some more checking and discovered some Troop websites that detail their flag retirement ceremonies. I found one ceremony for the POW flag and the Florida flag but nothing for Oklahoma. For the Oklahoma flag I’ll just retire it in a sober and somber way similar to that of the American flag. Here are the websites that I found:

    http://scoutingbear.com/USA/flagret.htm

    http://www.pack704.org/flagretirementceremonies.html

    http://troop212.cary.nc.us/news/ceremony.html

    Regarding my advancement to Eagle, I have completed everything including my project. I am currently waiting for my project workbook to be returned to the local council office from the national office. All that is left is the court of honor.

    My project consisted of organizing and carrying out evening activities at a local park, that is similar to a YMCA, for teenagers to have a fun, safe place to enjoy their Saturday evening. I live in a small town of about eight thousand people and there is not much to do on the weekends. The closest movie theater and other such entertainment is in a town fifteen miles away. The project took me almost a whole year from the time I first met with my Scoutmaster till the time I returned to the District Review Board. The total number of hours spent on the project by volunteers and myself was 253.4. I was very satisfied with the end result and am even more excited by the fact that my youth minister will be continuing the project as part of the church’s outreach.

    Thank you very much for your help. I hope those websites I found will prove useful to you and to others.

    Yours in Scouting,
    Jason

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  11. Ed Darrell says:

    Wow.

    I’d retire the state flag in a sober and somber ceremony just like the U.S. flag, and the POW flag, too, if only because of the emotional attachment so many Vietnam vets have to the flag.

    But, the POW flag is an official flag of the United States these days — I’ll have to look up the law — and there may be suggested ceremonial stuff. I’ll also look for any Oklahoma law, though you can probably search just as well as I, on line, through the Oklahoma code either through the state’s website or through Findlaw.com. Maybe more later.

    One thing you should be very careful about, Jason, is polyester flags. The fumes from such flags is toxic and a general nuisance. Stand upwind, and be careful not to put too many of the flags into a fire at once, or stand too close. Our troop’s recent experience is that almost all flags are polyester or nylon, even some that at first appear to be cotton canvas.

    How many more merit badges to Eagle, and do you have a project in mind yet?

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  12. Jason, a Life Scout says:

    My troop will be conducting a Flag retirement ceremony this weekend. People in our community give us their old and worn American Flags as well as their POW and state flags. What should we do with the POW and state flags? Previously we retired the other flags in a separate fire. Is it necessary to retire them in fire or can they be thrown away? Do you know of any ceremonies for the Oklahoma State Flag? Thank you.

    Yours in Scouting,
    Jason

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  13. My daughter found a copy of the same photo on several websites–some clear, some blurry. I think if you go to this link, you can see the hat clearly. We copied and pasted it into power point and blew it up, which helped, too. This site lets you zoom in clearly. When my daughter changed to another computer in the house with a better display, she was able to make out some other things. She’s taking an online US History course with Florida Virtual School and they hunt for some interesting things.

    Thanks so much for your help with her flag question.

    http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://americanhistory.si.edu/militaryhistory/img/graphics/28_l.jpg&imgrefurl=http://americanhistory.si.edu/militaryhistory/exhibition/zoomify.asp%3Fid%3D28%26type%3Dg%26width%3D640%26height%3D480%26hideAlt%3D1&h=273&w=300&sz=17&hl=en&start=6&tbnid=Jar8mdEVMVM6dM:&tbnh=106&tbnw=116&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dlibrary%2Bof%2Bcongress%2Blincoln%2Bmcclellan%26svnum%3D10%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DN

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  14. Ed Darrell says:

    Most flag etiquette evolved in the 20th century, really, so I’m not too surprised to hear of such a use of a flag in the 1860s. The flag was revered as a concept, as a symbol of the U.S., the Constitution, and the hopes and dreams for democracy and government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It wasn’t until the 20th century that it became tantamount to a sacred symbol.

    The Pledge of Allegiance wasn’t written until 1892, for example, and then it was much different than today. The national anthem wasn’t designated until 1931. The pledge wasn’t made anything official until about 1940. Playing the national anthem at sporting events probably was done some during World War I, but was stopped after the war ended. It was not started as an every-event sort of thing until World War II, and then by practice only, without benefit of any law or organization urging it be done. The practice hung on after the war. President Eisenhower signed the law adding “under God” to the pledge in 1954, and his administration made the executive order on when to fly the flag at half-staff.

    Prior to the 20th century it was not uncommon for people to use the flag as a decoration on furniture, or to use flag-studded prints to make quilts, etc., etc. A few of these used to be seen in the Smithsonian, and may still be there.

    This all must be collected neatly somewhere, but I’m not sure where. You would do well to check the post I did on the flag etiquette books, and then check the bibliography to the book the Congress put out.

    Here’s a link to that post:
    http://timpanogos.wordpress.com/2007/01/14/congresss-flag-etiquette-book-our-flag/

    I found that photo of Lincoln and McClellan. The flag is obviously woolen, and judging by the wrinkles one might guess it was recently wet. It may be hanging to dry. It is also unclear to me that Lincoln’s hat is on the flag — it could be on something else farther into the tent.

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  15. Barbara Cherry says:

    In doing research for a history project, we found a photo of President Lincoln visiting General McClellan’s campsite. Beside the President (seated) is a small table where he places his hat. The table covering for the table is clearly an American flag. I wouldn’t dream of using the flag as a tablecloth and placing things on top of the flag. When did flag etiquette develop its various rules? Is there any information on the evolution of flag etiquette? Do you know of a website with information on the history of flag etiquette?

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  16. edarrell says:

    So far as I have been able to determine, only Ohio has a special method for folding its flag, the result of an Eagle Scout project in the first years of the 21st century. Oregon’s state laws do not prescribe an official folding method — or much else relating to the Oregon flag (here is the version I found through Findlaw.com: http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/186.html).

    Folding a state flag square is fine. However, I find no problem with folding a state flag exactly as the U.S. flag is prescribed to be folded, with the triangular fold that leaves a triangle at the end. While some have ascribed almost-mystical meaning to this folding process, it is an old British Navy flag folding method (and may predate the British Navy for all I know), designed to allow the flag to unfurl completely upon hoisting. My experience with other folds has shown them not to be so useful in this process.

    This is not a minor issue for flags hoisted on poles over five or six feet high. The triangular fold generally falls away completely, leaving the flag to wave in the breeze. Other folds may get tangled in unfolding, and require that the flag be brought down for rehoisting. An alternative is to unfurl the flag completely upon posting, but this takes extra time, detracts from the honor given the U.S. flag, and is problematic to teach to young Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts in my experience.

    Incidentally, here is a link to the full text of the U.S. Senate’s version of “Our Flag”: http://www.senate.gov/reference/resources/pdf/ourflag.pdf. You can probably get your U.S. senators to give you, free, a few copies of this book, if you write and ask politely. If not, it’s for sale from the Government Printing Office. It offers no advice on folding of state flags.

    You could certainly follow the example of Scout Alex Weinstock, described in this post above, and propose to the Oregon legislature a method for folding the Oregon flag. It might make for a few good lessons in civics for the kids in your school, and it would be one small way for a few classes to leave a mark on history.

    I have resisted checking the origami books. I suspect there would be a way to fold a flag into a unique shape (say, a star). But at some point this rather starts sounding like idolatry, to me.

    Fold the Oregon flag with respect. Oregon state law does not require that, but common sense, and our respect for history and pioneers, rather demands it.

    Good luck with your students.

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  17. Andrea Wattier says:

    I work in a school where we deal with at risk children. In our jobs program we have a student put the flags up in the a.m. and another student in the p.m.
    My question is the U.S. flag is folded the proper way each day. But our state flag is only folded into a square respectfully. Is this alright? Or is there something else we should be doing? Thank You,
    Andrea

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