The flag of the Commonwealth of Kentucky features a navy blue field with the state seal and the words “Commonwealth of Kentucky” in gold centered in the middle. The state seal depicts symbols representing Kentucky’s history and values. The flag was officially adopted in 1928 but the design traces its origins back to the 1790s. The colors and symbols reflect Kentucky’s pioneer heritage and its motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.”
History of the Kentucky Flag
Kentucky’s first official flag was adopted in 1792 when Kentucky was still a part of Virginia. This early version featured the words “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” on a blue field. This phrase was inspired by the lyrics of The Liberty Song, a patriotic song from the American Revolution. The legislature adopted a new state seal in 1792 featuring two friends embracing, representing a pledge of friendship and mutual support.
In 1799, an updated state seal designed by silversmith Solomon Van Rensselaer was adopted. This new seal depicted a pioneer and a statesman embracing. In the background there was a rising sun along with symbols of Kentucky’s economy including hemp, corn, and the Constitution. This seal was surrounded by the text “Commonwealth of Kentucky” and symbols of liberty.
The current version of the Kentucky state flag was adopted in 1928. The flag features the 1799 seal on a navy blue field with the words “Commonwealth of Kentucky” in gold lettering above the seal. While some design details have changed over the years, the flag retains core symbols representing Kentucky’s values and economy.
Colors of the Flag
The Kentucky state flag consists of only two colors:
The background field of the flag is a rich navy blue. This shade represents the bluegrass region of Kentucky where the state gets its nickname. Blue is also associated with courage, vigilance, and perseverance.
The state seal, the state name “Commonwealth of Kentucky”, and the laurel wreath bordering the seal are all done in a golden yellow. This bold shade evokes the goldenrod state flower of Kentucky. Yellow represents virtues like charity, liberty, and justice.
The stark contrast between the navy blue field and golden yellow lettering creates a bold, eye-catching design. The symbolic colors reflect the pioneering spirit and values of the state of Kentucky.
The central element of the Kentucky flag is the state seal. This historic seal is surrounded by a laurel wreath and has gone through a few revisions over the years while maintaining core symbols relevant to Kentucky. Here are the key design elements and their meanings:
Two Men Shaking Hands
In the center two men clasp hands in a show of friendship and trust. On the right is a frontiersman wearing buckskin and a fur cap representing the early pioneers of Kentucky. On the left is a man in more formal attire meant to symbolize a statesman. Together they represent all Kentuckians united.
Behind the two men, the sun rises over the mountains in the distance. This symbolizes the dawn of a new state in the west. It also represents hope for the future.
Flowing between the two men is the Kentucky River. This represents the natural resources of the great state of Kentucky. Rivers were essential to transportation and trade for early frontier settlements in Kentucky.
Sugar Maple Trees
On either side of the river stand three sugar maple trees. Sugar maples represent the importance of agriculture to Kentucky’s economy, both historically and today. Kentucky’s maple syrup industry contributes millions to state GDP annually.
Rolls of Constitution
Behind the pioneers are stacked rolls of the Constitution, symbolizing Kentucky’s commitment to law, justice, and liberty. Kentucky joined the Union in 1792 and was the 15th state to ratify the Constitution.
Goldenrod, the state flower of Kentucky, is depicted growing in the foreground. This represent the natural beauty of Kentucky’s landscape and the state’s nickname as the Bluegrass State.
On a golden ribbon above the figures reads the motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”. This phrase dates back to Kentucky’s origins and represents the spirit of unity, cooperation and brotherhood.
Other Agricultural Symbols
Surrounding the central tableau are images of agricultural bounty representing Kentucky’s economy. These include stalks of wheat, corn, tobacco, and hemp. There is also a cluster of acorns symbolizing the oak savannas of Kentucky.
|Two men shaking hands
|Unity and friendship among Kentuckians
|Birth of a new state and a hopeful future
|Kentucky’s natural resources
|Sugar maple trees
|Agriculture and maple syrup industry
|Rolls of Constitution
|Commitment to law and justice
|State flower and natural beauty
|Motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”
|Brotherhood and unity
|Wheat, tobacco, corn, hemp
|Key agricultural crops
Words on the Flag
In addition to the state seal, the Kentucky flag features the state name in capital letters above the seal:
“COMMONWEALTH OF KENTUCKY”
This bold text anchors the central symbols and identifies the flag as belonging to the state of Kentucky. The word “Commonwealth” signifies that Kentucky is a state with a government based on the common consent of the people. This distinguishes it from a traditional state.
Below the seal, the flag is fringed with sprigs of goldenrod, reinforcing it as a key state symbol.
Meaning Behind the Flag
Kentucky’s state flag was designed to showcase symbols representing the state’s values, resources, and economy. Here is a summary of the key meanings behind the flag:
- Unity and brotherhood are core values, as symbolized by the handshake and motto.
- Kentucky is a new frontier with a pioneering history, represented by the frontiersman and rising sun.
- Natural resources like rivers and agriculture are essential to Kentucky’s prosperity, depicted through crops, trees, and the river.
- Justice, freedom, and democracy are important, embodied in the Constitution.
- The future of Kentucky is bright and hopeful, shown through the rising sun.
The navy blue field and golden colors are tied to Kentucky’s geography and natural beauty as the Bluegrass State. Altogether, the flag visually tells the story of a new commonwealth united by shared values and driven by liberty, unity, and pioneering spirit.
Interesting Facts About the Flag
Here are some additional interesting facts about the Kentucky state flag:
- The original 1792 Kentucky flag was the first for any U.S. territory or state to display the words “United We Stand, Divided We Fall.” This motto was inspired by The Liberty Song from the American Revolution.
- The silk for the 1792 flag was likely imported from France or Spain. The first Kentucky regiment carried this flag when Kentucky joined the Union in 1792.
- The current 50-star American flag was designed by a Kentucky native named Robert G. Heft, who created it for a high school class project in 1958.
- It’s the only U.S. state flag to feature the state seal on a solid blue background. Most other state flags have a seal on a bed of multiple colors.
- The Latin motto “Deo Gratium Habeamus” meaning “Let us be grateful to God” appears on the state seal but not on the flag.
- The Kentucky flag must be flown at the state Capitol and other public buildings whenever the U.S. flag is flown.
- When displayed vertically, the blue field and seal should be to the observer’s left with the words reading upward on the right side.
- Damaging or desecrating the Kentucky state flag in public is considered flag desecration and is illegal.
- In a 1925 poll, almost half of Kentuckians were not familiar with the official state flag and its meaning.
The Kentucky state flag has evolved over the centuries while retaining core symbols of unity, patriotism, and pride for the state and its people. Both the iconic seal and the bold colors have distinct meaning and history behind them. The flag serves as a symbol of Kentucky’s heritage as the 15th state to join the expanding union.
The Kentucky state flag features a simple but striking design of a navy blue field with a detailed state seal and golden lettering. The blue represents the grasslands and valor, while the gold symbolizes the values of liberty, justice, and sovereignty. Within the seal are pioneering figures, natural resources, and crops that tell the story of Kentucky’s economy and history. The flag proudly displays the state motto “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” that has defined Kentucky since its founding days. Altogether, the concise use of meaningful symbols and colors on the Kentucky flag captures the essence of a commonwealth enriched by unity, natural wonders, and shared democratic ideals. The flag continues to fly high over the Bluegrass State as an enduring symbol of its prosperity and proud heritage.