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The North Star Flag


William Becker & Lee Herold
The North Star Flag — Original file
Symbolism of the proposed new Minnesota state flag — Original page
The North Star Flag - A proposal for a Minnesota state flag — Original site



Why the star?

"The North Star" has been Minnesota's official state motto since statehood in 1858. It is inscribed on the state seal in French: "L'étoile du Nord." The motto was chosen by Governor Henry Sibley to honor the pioneers who were guided northward to Minnesota, and was apparently rendered in French to pay tribute to the first explorers of the northern frontier.

In the official state flag designs of 1893 and 1957, the north-star then appeared in two distinct ways: in the written motto itself, and in the topmost (and largest) of the nineteen stars which ring the state seal.

The North-Star theme appears often in Minnesota, including in the state flag and seal, the architecture of the State Capitol (especially the rotunda), the Minnesota History Center, the official city flag of Mankato, the logo of the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the state command insignia of the Minnesota Army National Guard, and so forth. The north-star also appears on other flags, including those of Alaska, Maine and Nunavut Territory (Canada). Single stars also appear prominently in the flags of Texas, Arizona, Puerto Rico, Nevada, North Carolina, California, and Massachusetts.

Why the colors?

The combination of blue, white, and green readily recalls our sky-tinted waters, our winter, and our fields and forests. They are northern colors which are found in the emblems of many Minnesota agencies and towns.

For example, the blue-white-green colors appear in : the official city flags of Duluth, Mankato, and Bayport; the logos of Albert Lea, Rochester, Waseca, and Moorehead; the emblems of the state license plate and the state fair, and the Minnesota departments of transportation and agriculture; and the principal entries in separate contests for a new state flag, as sponsored by the St. Paul Pioneer Press (March 31, 1989) and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune which stated:

"We asked readers to suggest a new flag, and we received almost 400 responses. While we can't print them all, it's fair to say most used the colors green, blue or white -- or all three -- and a star, representing the North Star." (Star-Tribune, March 14, 2000, p. E1)

The star in the proposed flag appears in gold in keeping with its color in both the 1893 and 1957 state flags.

Why the waves?

In heraldry, a wavy stripe is called a "wavy fess" and represents water. This is ideal for a state with so many lakes and rivers. In fact, the very name "minisota" is a Dakota Sioux word meaning "sky-tinted water." The name was given first to the river, then to the territory, and finally to the state. Heraldry based on such a name is called "canting heraldry."

Wavy stripes can be found in the official city flags of Winona and Mankato, and in the state command insignia of the Minnesota Army National Guard; as well as in many flags outside Minnesota, such as those of St. Louis (Missouri), British Columbia, New Brunswick, Vancouver (Canada), and many others.

Why the pattern?

The pattern of the flag -- a star and several horizontal stripes -- imitates the basic pattern of the American flag. The star appears in the "canton," the most visible part of a flag when flying.

The stripes have been arranged so that the white band will clearly separate the blue from the green. This practice follows the rules of heraldry, where softer colors (like white) usually separate bolder colors (blue and green) to keep each one distinct from afar.

Who designed the proposed flag?

Two Minnesota "vexillologists" (flag scholars) created the design together in 1989, after reviewing many possible designs. Rev. William Becker and Mr. Lee Herold have lifelong interests in flags. Mr. Herold owns and manages Herold Flags in Rochester. Rev. Becker, a pastor, is a published expert on the state flag with the Minnesota Historical Society.

The two men collaborated with international experts in creating the design. These included Sir John Ross Matheson (who designed the Canadian flag), Mr. Walter Angst (of the Smithsonian Institution), and Dr. Whitney Smith (of the Flag Research Center in suburban Boston).

The two men appeared before a legislative committee twice in 1989. A bi-partisan endeavor to study changing the state flag (led by Reps. Gil Gutknecht and Wayne Simoneau) was endorsed by a number of state legislators and state newspapers but was unsuccessful. The matter was raised again independently in 2000 and 2002 by Senator Edward Oliver. Similar initiatives have been underway in other states. A draft bill has been composed for the new flag design, including precise design specifications.