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The Evolution of the Stars and Stripes

Most Americans know only the U.S. flag that features nine, neatly arranged rows of alternating stars, but the flag changed 27 times in the nation's history with designs that included stars in circles, stars in squares and even stars in the shape of an hourglass.

Legally, the flag was born June 14, 1777, after the Continental Congress adopted this resolution: "That the Flag of the united states be 13 stripes alternate red and white, that the Union be 13 stars white in a blue field representing a new constellation."

Today's flag is far removed from the wild star patterns that adorned previous banners through history.

The flag of 1818, for example, had 20 stars that formed one great star. The banner of 1876 had 38 stars arranged in an hourglass shape.

Other patterns include diamonds, double circles, crosses and even a meteor.

The most unique feature of the flag is its five-pointed stars. Americans were the first to put the stars on a flag in 1777, said Whitney Smith, executive director of the Flag Research Center in Winchester, Mass.

"The idea of using a five-pointed star was unheard of," Smith said. "Putting stars on a flag is an American invention."

The 50-star flag became official in 1960 and is the longest flying banner in our nation's history, he said.

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