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Is the American flag royal or navy blue?

Is the American flag royal or navy blue?

The colors of the American flag hold great meaning and symbolism. The red, white and blue are defined in the flag code, but there has been some debate around whether the blue on the flag is a royal blue or a navy blue. This article will examine the history behind the flag’s colors, weigh the evidence for each shade of blue, and provide a definitive answer to the question: Is the American flag’s blue royal or navy?

History of the American Flag’s Colors

The first American flag was created in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. This flag, known as the Betsy Ross flag, had 13 alternating red and white stripes to represent the original 13 colonies. In the upper left corner was a blue canton containing 13 white stars in a circle to symbolize unity.

There are no records of the exact shades of colors used on this first flag. However, in 1794 the flag act officially established the colors as:

– Red – Symbolizing hardiness and valor
– White – Symbolizing purity and innocence
– Blue – Symbolizing vigilance, perseverance and justice

Again, the specific shades of red, white and blue were not defined. At the time, dyes and fabrics were made by hand, so there were many variations in color tones.

It wasn’t until the 20th century that color shades were standardized for flags. In 1934, the color shades were codified and adopted into law:

– White – The color white shall be emblem of stainless and unsullied patriotism.
– Red – The color red signifies the fierceness and valor with which the new nation was defended.
– Blue – The color blue signifies vigilance, truth and loyalty binding the strength and valor of the nation into one inseparable compact for the defense of rights and liberties. It was further specified that the blue was to match the shade of the blue uniform of the Union Army during the Civil War.

This 1934 flag code defined the blue in Old Glory as “navy blue” for the first time.

The Case for Royal Blue

Despite the flag code officially stating that the blue should match the navy’s uniforms, there is still debate around whether the blue is really a royal blue. Here are some of the arguments in favor of the American flag being royal blue:

– More vibrant shade – Some experts argue that the navy blue uniform color was too dull, and that the flag’s blue has historically been more vibrant, similar to a royal blue. The deeper royal blue makes the flag colors pop better.

– Early depiction evidence – While colors weren’t defined until 1934, there is some evidence that early American flags may have contained a blue closer to royal. Some depictions in paintings, political cartoons, and flags from the Revolutionary War period show shades that appear royal blue.

– Common perception – To the average American, the blue on our flag has a more purplish royal blue tone. Most depictions of the flag across popular media use a vibrancy that aligns more with royal blue than the darker navy blue.

– Distinct from other countries – Proponents argue a royal blue helps distinguish America’s flag more from other countries’ that use a navy blue, such as the British Union Jack.

So while the flag code defines navy blue, many still believe the quintessential red, white and blue American flag they know is made up of a royal blue hue.

The Case for Navy Blue

On the other side of the debate, there’s strong evidence suggesting the blue on America’s flag is intended to be the darker navy blue color:

– Official flag code – The 1934 code explicitly states the color should match the navy’s uniforms, which were a navy blue shade. All official U.S. flags produced after this aligned to the defined navy blue tone.

– Historical precedence – Navy blue aligns with the blue of the first unofficial Continental Navy uniforms in 1775. So the flag’s color pays homage to the original naval uniforms.

– Color consistency – Navy blue provides a unified darker shade of blue across the American flag and the U.S. military uniform colors. This distinguishes American blue from the lighter royal blue associated with other European monarchies.

– Dye technology improvement – Early in American history, the blue dye process produced inconsistent and lighter blue tones. But as technology improved, the blue color stabilized to a consistently darker navy blue on flags.

So from a historical and legal standpoint, many argue that Old Glory’s blue was intended to be navy blue to match the naval uniforms and represent unity across America’s military.

What the Experts Say

To help shed light on this patriotic predicament, some leading vexillology (flag study) experts have weighed in:

The U.S. Naval Institute

The U.S. Naval Institute Navy History and Heritage Command conducted extensive color analysis on important historical U.S. flags. They determined the blue color was a navy blue that matched naval uniforms, calling it “true blue.”

William Driver

William Driver was the 19th century ship captain who coined the name “Old Glory” for the American flag. In the 1872 dedication of his flag, he sang of the colors and referenced them as red, white and navy blue.

Whitney Smith

Whitney Smith is considered one of the fathers of modern vexillology. He authored the 1975 book Flags Through the Ages and Across the World. In examining the flag’s colors he stated, “Note that Old Glory’s blue is a navy blue, not a royal blue.”

Pantone Matching System

Pantone provides standardized color matching across industries like printing and manufacturing. They list the official Pantone colors for the American flag as PMS 193 red, PMS safe white and PMS 282 blue. PMS 282 is matched to navy blue.

So experts in flag history and color science agree that the blue on America’s flag today aligns specifically with navy blue, despite the variance seen in early flags.

Expert Source Perspective on Flag’s Blue
U.S. Naval Institute Match to naval uniforms – navy blue “true blue”
William Driver Referenced color as navy blue in 1872 flag dedication
Whitney Smith Stated the blue is navy blue, not royal
Pantone Matching System Defines official flag blue as PMS 282 navy blue


While early American flags may have had shades closer to royal blue, over time the official color has stabilized to a navy blue. This navy blue aligns with the original naval uniforms and provides a unified blue tone across America’s military. The 1934 flag code cemented navy blue as the official legal color.

So based on historical record and expert analysis, the conclusive answer to the debate is that the blue on the American flag today is navy blue. This navy blue symbolizes vigilance and perseverance, calling to mind the brave navy soldiers who helped establish the United States. So Old Glory’s colors stand as an enduring symbol of freedom, democracy and unity for the nation.