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Deborah’s Theory on Flag-Folding

What I have to say today is pure speculation.

So much has been written about why the flag is folded thirteen times—into a right triangle—whose shape is like a cocked hat. It’s impossible to keep all the stories straight. If the historians knew for certain, they would have told us. So that makes my theory as good as any.

I believe it is all serendipity, and here’s why. When I worked at a museum, it was part of my job to raise and lower the U.S and Texas flags every day by myself. Now that I handle flags all the time, please trust me when I say that flags are as slippery as a wet baby. It is extremely difficult and tedious for one person to fold the U.S. flag (and there are no instructions for folding the Texas flag). So I would carefully fold them into squares and store them under the counter. But invariably each flag would slip and slide, and come apart, and sometimes slither onto the floor, no matter how carefully I stored it.

My theory is that our elaborate flag-folding procedure evolved from storing the flag on board a warship. Safety comes first on board a ship, and I can easily imagine a ship’s captain bellowing at someone to secure a flag that repeatedly unfolded itself, even if it were stored in a chest or a cabinet.

I think someone, in order to make his captain happy, figured out how to fold the flag so that it would stay snug and secure. To fold it tight, it takes two people. All stars showing is prettier than all stripes. As men and officers changed ships and ports, the practice spread. The thirteen folds and resemblance to a cocked hat was just a happy coincidence, and that is serendipity.

That’s what I think.

3 thoughts on “Deborah’s Theory on Flag-Folding

  1. Great theory. They are slippery and it could have happened that way. And you cleared one thing up for me. When we were stetting up our new flag (very nice flag from at Cub Scouts, a Boy Scout leader was there and helping show the boys how to fold a flag. He said there should be 13 stars on the outside of the flag once it is folded, but it didn’t work out. It was 13 folds. He was wrong.

  2. Thank you Dave. I’m glad you like the new flag, and we’d love to see photos of it and the Cubs. We’re big fans of the littlest Scouts. Deborah

  3. […] The Texas Flag Code is silent on this, so there’s no help to be found there. I should mention that the U.S. Flag Code does not tell how to fold the Stars and Stripes either. The origins of our much-beloved tri-cornered fold is a mystery. Last year I speculated (with little scholarship) on this topic and wrote about it here.  […]

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