Unconventional State Flags of America: A Look Into Their Past

State flags have been a symbol of pride and identity for regions and countries since ancient times. Each flag has a unique story and meaning to tell, and the same goes for state flags in the United States. While most state flags sport a rectangular shape and traditional colors, some have taken a more unconventional route in their design. Whether it’s the unique shapes, uncommon colors, or peculiar symbols, each state flag has its quirks that make it stand out from the rest. In this article, we delve into the origins of some of the unusual variations of state flags in the US and uncover the intriguing stories behind their design.

The Importance of a State Flag

A state flag is an emblem that represents a state’s identity and heritage. It is a symbol of pride for its citizens and represents the history, culture, and values of a state. A state flag also helps to create a sense of belonging and unity among the state’s residents. Each state’s flag is unique, with its own set of colors, symbols, and design. Many state flags feature coat of arms, while others incorporate images of the state’s flora, fauna, or landmarks. The shades of blue are commonly used in state flags, while other colors are also seen. State flags have evolved over time, with changes made to their design, phrasing, and significance. A state flag serves as a reminder of what makes each state special and contributes to the cultural diversity of the United States.

Why Do Some States Have Unusual Flags?

State flags are a visual representation of a state’s identity. They fly high on flagpoles, are featured prominently in government buildings, and are often incorporated in local businesses and schools. However, not all state flags are created equal. Some feature unique designs, colors, and symbols that deviate from the traditional flag model. But what causes some states to have these unusual flags in the first place?

One reason for unusual flags is the historical context of the state. Many state flags date back to a time when their state was still a territory or newly admitted to the Union. These flags were designed to symbolize the state’s history, culture, and aspirations. For example, the Wyoming state flag’s bison and seal represent the natural beauty and diverse populations of the state.

Another reason could be a political agenda. Some states may choose to create unique flags as a way to stand out and differentiate themselves from other states. The New Mexico state flag, for example, was designed to showcase the state’s unique blend of Native American and Spanish cultures.

Yet another reason could be an emphasis on symbolism. Some state flags may choose to incorporate unusual symbols and colors to represent specific ideals or values of the state. The Maryland state flag, for instance, features a black and gold color scheme that represents the Calvert and Crossland families, who founded Maryland and fought for religious freedom.

Whatever the reason, it is clear that some states have taken a creative approach to designing their flags. From non-rectangular shapes to unusual symbols and colors, these state flags serve as a powerful representation of their state’s unique identity. For more information on the evolution of state flag designs, visit our article on the evolution of state flag designs. For a deeper dive into the phrasing and significance of state flags, check out our article on state flag phrasing and significance.

The Non-Rectangular Flags

The Non-Rectangular Flags
One interesting variation of state flags is their shape. While many flags are rectangular, some states have chosen to be unique by opting for unusual shapes. Ohio chose a burgee shape because it was the shape used by the state’s cavalry units during the Civil War. The New Mexico state flag also features a non-rectangular shape called a “Zia,” which is a sacred symbol of a Native American tribe that inhabited the region. Finally, Arizona‘s state flag is also non-rectangular and features a unique starburst design that represents the state’s copper industry and the rays of the sun. Each of these non-rectangular state flags reflects a specific aspect of their state’s history, culture, or industry.

The History of Ohio State Flag

The Ohio state flag is unique with a swallowtail design and a broad blue triangle. The main body of the flag comprises three red and two white stripes symbolizing the state’s roads and waterways. The swallowtail edge is divided into six triangles of alternating red and white colors.

This design was created by a Cleveland architect, John Eisemann. He won a competition to design the flag in 1901, which followed a contest organized by the Ohio National Guard to find a suitable state flag. The flag was adopted on May 9, 1902, which coincided with Columbus’s 100th anniversary as Ohio capital.

The Ohio flag has undergone different versions since its adoption. The original Ohio flag had no specific dimension or specification. Its use was therefore inconsistent until 1905 when the state legislature recommended specific measurements. The first official description of the flag was established in the Ohio Revised Code in 1959.

Ohio is the only state in the US with a swallowtail design flag. It is thought that Eisemann’s design was inspired by the shape of a guidon, which was commonly used in military operations. The triangular shape of the flag is a representation of Ohio’s hills and mountains. The colors used, red, white, and blue, are taken from the US national flag.

The Ohio state flag has remained a symbol of the state’s rich history and cultural heritage since its adoption. To commemorate Ohio’s 200th birth anniversary in 2003, a new design was created that featured a centered red disc, which represents the Buckeye State, surrounded by 17 stars, symbolizing Ohio’s 17th statehood. This redesigned flag replaced the previous version officially on May 20, 2006.

The Meaning Behind the New Mexico State Flag

The New Mexico state flag features a bright yellow background with a red symbol known as the Zia. The Zia is a symbol of great cultural significance for the Zia Pueblo tribe, whose homeland is located in central New Mexico.

The Zia consists of a circle with four arms stretching out from the center. Each arm has four rays that radiate outwards, creating a total of 16 rays. The number four is particularly significant in Native American culture and represents the four directions, the four seasons, and the four stages of life.

The meanings behind the Zia symbol on the New Mexico state flag are as follows:

Unity: The circle in the center of the Zia represents the circle of life and the interconnectedness of all things.

Timeless: The 16 rays of the Zia represent the 16 original tribes of New Mexico and their unity as one people.

Crossroads: The four arms of the Zia represent the four cardinal directions, and the four seasons, and the four stages of life – childhood, youth, adulthood, and old age. This shows that life is a journey with many crossroads and phases.

Sacred Number: Finally, the number four is considered highly sacred in Native American culture, as it is believed to represent the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water.

The New Mexico state flag has been in use for over 100 years, and its distinctive design has become an iconic symbol of the state. The colors, yellow and red, represent the Spanish heritage of the region, while the Zia symbolizes the state’s ancient Native American cultures.

The Unique Design of the Arizona State Flag

The Arizona State Flag stands out among other state flags with its unique design. Instead of the typical rectangular shape, the Arizona flag is shaped like a square, representing the state’s nickname as the “Square State”.

In the center of the flag, the blue field and star represent the state’s natural resources, such as copper and water. The red and gold stripes on the top and bottom of the flag symbolize the sunrise and sunset over the Arizona desert. The thirteen red and yellow-rayed sun rays represent the original thirteen colonies, while the copper-colored star in the center represents the extensive copper deposits located in the state.

The Arizona State Flag design was created by Colonel Charles W. Harris, adjutant general of Arizona, and was formally adopted on February 17, 1917, just a few months before Arizona became the 48th state to join the United States.

Interestingly, the original design for the Arizona State Flag was rejected by the governor at the time because it depicted the Confederate flag in the design. The revised design that we see today maintains the blue, red, and gold colors from the original design, but with the substitution of the copper star in place of the Confederate flag.

The unique design of the Arizona State Flag perfectly captures the state’s geography, history, and natural resources. It’s a symbol that is instantly recognizable to Arizonans and is a point of pride for the state’s residents.

The Uncommon Colors

As you take a closer look at some of the state flags in the United States, you’ll notice that not all of them follow the conventional color scheme. Some states, such as Maryland and South Carolina, have incorporated uncommon and even mismatched colors into their flags. For instance, the Maryland flag features a combination of yellow and black, colors that are typically associated with cautionary signs. South Carolina’s flag, on the other hand, has a blue background with a white palmetto tree and crescent. These colors are not natural or common in the world of flags, but they represent the unique history and influences of the states they represent. Meanwhile, Hawaii state flag is distinguished by its vibrant shades of red, yellow, and blue, which reflect the colors of its tropical setting, while the blue-and-gold color combination on California’s flag is inspired by their state animal – the grizzly bear.

The Origin of the Maryland State Flag’s Yellow and Black Colors

The origin of the Maryland State Flag’s yellow and black colors is an intriguing one. Many people assume that the colors were chosen because they represent the state’s official bird, the Baltimore Oriole, but this is not entirely accurate.

In the late 17th century, Maryland began using a coat of arms that featured a quartered design with the colors red and white. The state flag’s design is based on this coat of arms. The red and white were later replaced by the current yellow and black.

There are several theories about why Maryland changed the colors. One theory is that the yellow and black colors were inspired by the coat of arms of Lord Baltimore’s family. Lord Baltimore was the founder of the colony of Maryland, and his family coat of arms features a black and gold design.

Another theory is that the yellow and black colors were chosen to represent the Calvert and Crossland families, who merged in the 17th century. The Calvert family coat of arms features a yellow and black design, while the Crossland family coat of arms features a red and white design. The state flag’s design is said to represent the merging of these two families.

Regardless of the exact reason for the change, the yellow and black colors have become an integral part of the Maryland State Flag. The flag’s design features four quadrants of alternating colors – two of black and two of yellow. in the upper left and lower right quadrants, there are red and white crosses from the coat of arms. The bottom left and top right quadrants feature the Calvert and Crossland coats of arms respectively.

The Maryland State Flag’s yellow and black colors may have a complex origin, but they have become an iconic symbol of the state and its proud history.

The Mismatched Colors of South Carolina State Flag

The South Carolina state flag is one of the most recognizable yet unique state flags in the United States. Its design includes a blue field with a white crescent in the center and a palmetto tree on the hoist side. But what stands out the most about this flag is its mismatched colors.

Unlike most state flags, which typically include two or three complementary colors, the South Carolina state flag features blue, white, and **gold** hues. This unusual color combination has confused and intrigued many people over the years, leading to various theories about its origins.

Some believe that the blue and white colors of the flag represent the colors of the United States flag, while the **gold** color represents the state’s wealth and prosperity. Others speculate that the **gold** color was added as a way to differentiate the state flag from the naval jack of the Confederate States of America, which also featured a blue field and white crescent.

Despite these theories, there is no definitive answer as to why the South Carolina state flag features this distinctive color scheme. However, one thing is for certain – it has become an important symbol of the state’s history and identity.

In fact, the palmetto tree on the flag’s hoist side is a nod to the state’s role in the Revolutionary War. During the Battle of Sullivan’s Island in 1776, Colonel William Moultrie and his men successfully defended the palmetto-log fort on the island against British forces. The logs, which were able to absorb the impact of British cannonballs, became a symbol of resilience and strength for the state.

The mismatched colors of the South Carolina state flag may seem perplexing at first, but they have become an integral part of the state’s identity and history.

The Vibrant Shades of Hawaii State Flag

The Hawaii state flag is a beautiful sight to behold, with its vibrant hues and intricate design. The flag features eight stripes of white, red, and blue, representing the eight main islands of Hawaii. At the flag’s center is the British Union Jack to acknowledge Hawaii’s historical relationship with the United Kingdom. At the top and bottom of the Union Jack, there are two stripes of white, representing purity and the islands’ snow-capped mountains.

The most striking feature of Hawaii’s state flag is the unusual shade of red used in its design. The red color is referred to as “Hawaiian flag red,” and it is said to have been inspired by the native Hawaiian species of the ‘Ohi’a Lehua tree’s blossoms. The tree, along with its vibrant red blooms, has cultural significance for the Hawaiian people and features prominently in Hawaiian legends and folklore.

While the shade of red used in the Hawaii state flag may be unique, it is not without significance. Red is a significant color in Hawaiian culture, representing bravery, strength, and commitment. It also represents the islands’ volcanic origins, with the color representing the hot lava that formed the islands.

The blue color in the Hawaii state flag represents the ocean surrounding the Hawaiian islands, while the white represents purity and the islands’ snow-capped mountains. Together, these colors combine to create a stunning representation of the natural beauty of Hawaii.

The vibrant shades used in the Hawaii state flag have deep cultural significance for the people of Hawaii, and the unique shade of Hawaiian flag red adds to the beauty and symbolism of this striking flag. Hawaii’s flag is a testament to the state’s rich history and natural wonders and remains an essential symbol of the islands’ identity.

The Odd Symbols

When it comes to state flags, some symbols can be quite unusual and unexpected. Take, for example, the Wyoming state flag, featuring a white bison in the center and the state seal surrounding it. While most states opt for more traditional symbols like stars or stripes, Wyoming’s bison represents the state’s abundance of wildlife and its history of buffalo hunting. Another unique state flag is Utah’s, which features a beehive and sego lily. The beehive symbolizes industry and hard work, while the sego lily represents peace and serenity. Finally, we have California’s state flag, which depicts a grizzly bear. Originally chosen during the Gold Rush era because of its strength and ferocity, the grizzly bear still stands as a symbol of California’s power and resilience. These unusual symbols may seem perplexing at first, but they are rooted in the history and values of each state.

The Wyoming State Flag’s Bison and Seal

The Wyoming State Flag is one of the most recognizable state flags in the United States due to its striking design and unique features. One of these features is the presence of a bison and seal on the flag.

The bison, also known as the American buffalo, is a symbol of the state’s heritage and wildlife. It’s depicted on the flag as a white silhouette within a blue circle. The white color represents purity, while the blue circle stands for the sky, which is a prominent feature of the state’s landscape.

The seal, on the other hand, is located on the left side of the flag and has a more intricate design. It features several symbols, including a woman holding a staff with the state seal, a draped flag, and a banner displaying the state motto “Equal Rights”. The two dates on the seal, “1869” and “1890”, represent Wyoming’s admission to the Union as a territory and as a state, respectively.

What makes the Wyoming State Flag unique is that it’s the only state flag to feature an animal silhouette and a state seal. The use of these symbols on the flag is a testament to Wyoming’s natural beauty and rich history. The seal, in particular, showcases the state’s commitment to equality and justice for all.

The Wyoming State Flag’s bison and seal make it a distinctive emblem of the state’s cultural and natural heritage. Its design is a testament to Wyoming’s distinctive identity as a state that values its wildlife, history, and principles.

The Utah State Flag’s Beehive and Sego Lily

The Utah State Flag features a unique combination of symbols, including the beehive and the sego lily. The beehive, which is prominently displayed at the center of the flag, represents hard work, industry, and thrift. Utah is known as the Beehive State, and the beehive also symbolizes the early pioneers’ efforts to build a thriving community in the desert.

In addition to the beehive, the Utah State Flag features a sego lily, which is a delicate and beautiful flower that is native to Utah. The sego lily symbolizes peace, serenity, and industry, and it has played an important role in Utah’s history. It was used by the early pioneers as a source of food during times of scarcity. The sego lily is also the state flower of Utah.

The Utah State Flag’s design and colors were inspired by the state’s landscape and geography. The background is navy blue, which represents the sky and the mountain peaks of Utah. The gold circle in the center represents the sun and the warmth of Utah’s climate. The beehive and sego lily are both gold, which symbolizes the state’s rich resources and natural beauty.

The Utah State Flag was designed by Harry Edwards, a member of the Utah State Legislature, and was adopted as the official state flag on February 16, 1903. Since then, it has become a symbol of pride and unity for the people of Utah, and it is often displayed at public events and ceremonies.

The design of the Utah State Flag showcases the state’s values and history, and its unique symbols have become an important part of Utah’s identity.

The California State Flag’s Grizzly Bear

The California State Flag’s Grizzly Bear is a symbol that has a deep historical significance. The flag was adopted in 1911 and features a red stripe, a white stripe and a star on top of a California grizzly bear that is walking towards the left side of the flag. However, the image of the bear is not just any bear. It is the image of a specific bear named Monarch who was captured in 1889.

Monarch was a famous bear known for his enormous size and strength. He weighed over 2,000 pounds and stood 8 feet tall. The bear was captured by a man named William Randolph Hearst who decided to exhibit Monarch in his San Francisco zoo. Monarch was a popular attraction and was visited by thousands of people from all over the world.

When the California State Flag was designed, Hearst gave permission for the image of Monarch to be used on the flag. Monarch the bear symbolizes the strength, power, and bravery of the California people. The bear also represents the wildlife and natural beauty of California.

Although Monarch died a long time ago, his legacy lives on through the California State Flag. Today, the bear on the flag is seen as a symbol of pride for Californians, and the flag is often displayed in government buildings, schools, and homes throughout the state. It is also used as a design element for various products and clothing items.

In recent years, there has been some controversy over the use of the bear on the California State Flag. Some people argue that the image of the bear is a reminder of the state’s violent past with regards to the treatment of Native Americans and the bear population. Despite these arguments, the bear on the flag remains a symbol of California’s rich history, culture, and natural heritage.


In conclusion, state flags are not just pieces of cloth or designs. Each flag tells a story, summarizes the history, and represents the essence of the state it stands for. From the non-rectangular flags of Ohio, New Mexico, and Arizona to the uncommon colors of Maryland, South Carolina, and Hawaii, and the odd symbols used in the flags of Wyoming, Utah, and California, each flag has its unique features and origins.

Some states have chosen to change their flags over time, while others have kept them the same for centuries. Whether it’s to honor their history, express their unique identity, or simply to stand out, state flags continue to play an essential role in symbolizing and representing the states they belong to.

When it comes to designing a state flag, there are many factors to consider, such as color, shape, symbols, and meaning. However, the most important aspect is to create a flag that accurately portrays the state’s history, values, and identity, and that resonates with its people.

In summary, the diversity and uniqueness of state flags are what make them so fascinating and intriguing. Each flag tells a different story, and each represents a unique blend of history, tradition, and innovation. Whether you’re a native of a state, a curious traveler, or simply a flag enthusiast, there’s always something new and exciting to discover about state flags and their origins.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of a state flag?

A state flag represents the identity, history, and values of the state. It is a symbol that communicates the state’s distinctive characteristics and heritage.

Why do some state flags have unusual designs?

Some state flags were designed to stand out and be unique, while others incorporate historical or cultural features. These flags may also use unusual colors, shapes, or symbols to represent the state’s identity.

What is the history behind the Ohio state flag?

The Ohio state flag was adopted in 1902 and is the only non-rectangular state flag in the United States. The design features a swallowtail shape and a circle of stars, with colors representing the state’s heritage and geography.

What is the meaning behind the New Mexico state flag?

The New Mexico state flag features a red sun symbol of the Zia Pueblo, a Native American tribe, and four sets of lines representing life cycles, directions, and seasons. The colors also reflect the state’s Spanish and Mexican heritage.

What makes the Arizona state flag unique?

The Arizona state flag features a copper star, lower half of a red and blue background, and 13 rays of red and gold representing the sun’s rays. The copper star refers to the state’s copper-mining industry.

Why do the Maryland state flag’s colors include yellow and black?

The Maryland state flag incorporates the colors and patterns of the Calvert and Crossland families, who were among the founders of the state. The yellow and black colors of the flag are from the Calvert family crest.

What is the story behind the South Carolina state flag’s mismatched colors?

The South Carolina state flag incorporates the blue of the militia’s uniforms and the crescent from the cap insignia. The red background was added later to the flag for aesthetic purposes.

What is the significance of the Hawaii state flag’s vibrant colors?

The Hawaii state flag features eight stripes of alternating white, red, and blue colors, representing the eight main islands and the state’s connections to the United States. The Union Jack in the upper left corner symbolizes Hawaii’s historical relationship with Great Britain.

What do the Wyoming state flag’s symbols represent?

The Wyoming state flag features a bison and a seal, representing the state’s wildlife and government. The seal includes symbols of a draped figure representing the goddess of liberty, an eagle holding a banner, and a male figure representing agriculture and mining.

What do the symbols on the Utah state flag mean?

The Utah state flag features a beehive symbol representing industry and the state’s motto “Industry”. The sego lily, Utah’s state flower, represents peace. The dates 1847 and 1896 signify the year of the state’s settlement and statehood, respectively


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