Here’s a story about a boy involved in a worthwhile activity. Guideposts’ senior staff editor and writer, Richard H. Schneider, included this information in the July 2003 issue of Guideposts.
Did you know....................?
In the spring of 1958, a 17-year-old, Robert G. Heft, was a high school kid in Lancaster, OH. While riding the bus home from school that Friday afternoon, he was thinking about the assignment his history teacher, Mr. Pratt, had given the class--- a project that demonstrated their interest in history. It needed to be something original, visual and it was due on Monday.
As the bus passed City Hall, Robert saw the flag waving and decided to design a new flag. He knew Alaska, heavily Democrat, was likely to soon become the forty-ninth state. He also knew the Senate, dominated then by Republicans, would have to approve the addition ....and had a hunch that Hawaii (Republican) would soon become the fiftieth state to balance it out.
Robert sketched out the grid for the 50 stars and decided upon the five rows of six stars with four alternating rows of five stars. After cutting the blue and white corner from the family’s three by five foot flag, he biked to Wiseman’s Dept. Store, where he bought a piece of blue cotton broadcloth and some iron-on mending tape.
Using a cardboard pattern, he cut 100 stars from the mending tape so he could have 50 stars for both sides of the flag. His mother was horrified and hollered at him for desecrating the flag. She refused to sew the new background onto the flag for him. Using their old foot-operated Singer Sewing Machine, which he had never done, he reconstructed the flag and ironed on the stars. Project done.
He only barely received a passing grade because Mr. Pratt, a real taskmaster, said it wasn’t a real flag. The peeved Robert protested his grade. Mr. Pratt told him, "If you don’t like the grade, go get the flag accepted in Washington!"
Robert biked over to the home of his congressman, Walter Moeller, where he gave him the flag, explaining what it was for, and asked him if there were ever a contest to determine the design for a fifty-star flag, please to present this one for him.
Alaska became the 49th state in January 1959, and Hawaii was made the 50th state in August 1959.
Even though Robert knew there was a contest and that a special commission of congressmen was screening thousands of designs for the new flag, he had heard nothing since giving the flag to Congressman Moeller.
In early June while at work as a draftsman, he received a phone call from Congressman Moeller explaining that President Eisenhower had selected Robert’s design for the new flag. He was flown to Washington, where he learned there were several others who submitted the same design. He won because his was the first and the only one made into a flag, which was a big plus.
Robert Heft’s original handmade version has traveled. It’s flown over every state capitol building and 88 embassies, and it is the only flag in American history to have flown over the White House under five administrations. It even has a patch on it from a bullet hole it caught in Saigon in 1967.
The day Robert returned from Washington, Mr. Pratt changed his grade. (Robert was by then out of high school, working and going to college at night). Robert said if he hadn’t gotten the bad grade, he wouldn’t have given the flag to the congressman and would not have gotten to go to Washington. His design has flown for over 40 years, longer than any other. He has a design for a fifty-one star flag, in case we ever need it.
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