July is a popular time to eat ice cream, watch fireworks, grill our favorite foods and hit the pool. It’s also a time for patriotic symbols to be displayed everywhere you look. Let’s take a look at some of the symbols as well as what they mean or where they came from.
The Bald Eagle is easily the most recognizable bird in the United States. It became the official bird of the United States in 1782 during the Continental Congress and was incorporated into the Great Seal. Eagles are internationally considered symbols of strength, courage and freedom. The Bald Eagle is only native to North America, making it particularly attractive to be our official bird. Additionally, the Bald Eagle is one of the greatest conservation success stories in history. Pesticides, especially DDT, caused wild populations to dwindle down to only 417 nesting pairs by 1963. Through legislation and enforcement, banning the use of DDT, habitat protection and breeding efforts, the species fully recovered and is now a species of “Least Concern.”
The iconic character known as “Uncle Sam” is likely based on several fictional and real people. The image is thought to be a combination of Yankee Doodle, a derogatory term for Americans used by the British during the Revolutionary War, and Brother Johnathan, an American folk and cartoon character. The name probably comes from the merchant Sam Wilson, who supplied beef to Americans soldiers during the War of 1812. The barrels of beef had the initials U.S., which meant “United States,” but it became associated with “Uncle Sam.” Most of us recognize Uncle Sam from recruitment posters used during both World Wars.
Bunting was originally a type of lightweight wool fabric. Now it describes any type of decorative flag hanging from a string or something similar. Since it is technically against the U.S. Flag Code to use the American Flag as decoration, bunting flags have been adopted by many as a popular patriotic decoration. They may still be made of fabric, but many of the ones used outdoors are made of more durable materials such as plastic or vinyl.
The Bald Eagle: The Improbably Journey of America’s Bird by Jack E. Davis
Flag: An American Biography by Marc Leepson
Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence by Joseph J. Ellis