Living History: How Utah came to have one boring state flag
The Intermountain West boasts some of the nation's best state flags. Utah's is not one of them.
Colorado's sports bold colors and a stylized "C." Arizona's features dramatic red and yellow rays exploding from a copper star. My personal favorite, New Mexico's, is an ancient American sun symbol in red on a yellow background.
Utah's has stiff competition for "Most Boring State Flag Ever" from the dozen or so other states that simply slapped the state seal on a blue background. Oregon's monochrome seal on blue would seem to have an edge, but it is the only state flag that has two sides with different images. The beaver on the back takes it out of the running.
From the beginning, the Utah State Flag was an afterthought.
Utah didn't have much reason for a flag until 1903, when the St. Louis Exposition asked that one be sent. Gov. Heber M. Wells asked the Utah branch of the Daughters of the American Revolution to solicit donations and oversee the production. A hand-stitched white state seal on a blue silk background was ordered from ZCMI.
The flag was sent and unfurled in time for the 1904 exposition. However, because no one thought to bother with a legislative act to officially designate a state flag, the ZCMI banner wasn't official. It could claim to be only the Utah governor's "regimental colors."
This oversight was corrected in March 1911, when the blue and white "Governor's Flag" was adopted as the official state flag by the Utah Legislature.
In 1912, proud Utahns wanted to present a state flag to the recently commissioned Battleship Utah.
This time it was the Sons and Daughters of the Utah Pioneers who raised the money and sent the design with directions to a firm back east. When the flag arrived, Utah's sons and daughters were flummoxed to discover that the manufacturer had taken the liberty of jazzing things up. Instead of a simple white seal, they possessed a flag with the seal's beehive, eagle, and sego lily flowers in full color. The folks back east had even tossed in a gold ring circling the seal.
Rather than have the flag redone to conform with state law, they changed the law. In 1913, Annie Wells Cannon introduced a bill recognizing the changes made in the east. The new, technicolor flag was displayed in the Capitol and ZCMI. A ball in its honor was held before finally being presented to the USS Utah.
In 1921, New York City asked for a Utah flag for a "Parade of States" display. Flags such as Utah's were produced by hand stitching, which was laborious and expensive, and meant that probably the only Utah State Flag at that time was prowling the high seas. Once again, private groups were called upon to raise funds. This time the Woman's Relief Corps. Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic came forward.
Dollie McGonegal stitched the flag in 1922. Ever since, every Utah flag produced has been based on McGonegal's until 2011.
It was noticed that McGonegal had moved the date "1847" from inside the shield, where the 1913 statute says it should be, and placed it below. This last year the Legislature passed the Utah State Flag Concurrent Resolution. Besides returning the date to its proper place, the shield is now white, and not blue as before.
Pat Bagley is the editorial cartoonist for The Salt Lake Tribune.
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