The American presidential flag has always been dark blue. Fittingly so, since it was first used by the U.S. Navy. Four presidents played an important part in the flag’s evolution.
Since 1882 the U.S. presidents have had a flag. It is used for military and ceremonial purposes, it is seen behind the president in official photos and at press conferences, it hangs in the Oval Office of the White House and it flies on buildings, cars, ships and airplanes when the President of the United States is present.
As other flags of heads of state around the world, the U.S. presidential flag is never flown at half mast as it is a symbol of national sovereignty and the executive power of the president. On Inauguration Day every four years, or when a U.S. president dies or leaves office before the end of his term, the presidential flag immediately becomes the flag of his successor. It is not connected to the president as a person, but rather to the president as an institution.
Chester A. Arthur (1881-1885) wanted the President of the United States to have his own flag. This idea was inspired by other countries where the presence of the commander-in-chief, be it a president or a monarch, on board a naval vessel was indicated by use of a special flag hoisted at the main mast.
In his 1882 executive order, President Arthur described the new presidential flag for use at sea: “a blue ground with arms of the United States in the center”. The official U.S. coat of arms is displayed on the Great Seal of the United States. When the Great Seal was redesigned in 1885, the presidential flag changed too.
Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909) decided in 1902 that there should be only one flag for the U.S. President and made some changes to the flag’s design. The issue was that an alternative presidential flag had been used by the U.S. Army since 1898. The blue presidential flag, primarily used by the Navy, was deemed too similar in appearance to the Army infantry flag. So, the Army’s presidential flag was red in stead of blue.
Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921) changed the design of the president’s flag to accommodate the needs of the U.S. Army. Adding four white stars, one in each corner of the flag, the flag was made sufficiently distinct from other flags. President Wilson’s 1916 executive order also ended the Army’s use of a ceremonial Presidential Color with a different design from the Presidential Flag.
Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) was president when both the Seal of the President and the Flag of the President found their current form. Since 1945 the president’s arms on his seal and on his flag differ from the arms on the Great Seal. For example, a circle of white stars surrounds the coat of arms, representing all the States of the Union.