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July 24, 2008

Minnesota’s First State Flag

Filed under: Our Favorite Things — Matt Anderson @ 3:34 pm

With all of the excitement surrounding Minnesota’s sesquicentennial this year, I’ve been thinking about those formative days in 1858 when we emerged from our territorial adolescence into full-grown statehood. Creating a new state is no simple matter. Given the innumerable legislative tasks involved, we shouldn’t be surprised that one or two slipped through the cracks. What might be surprising though, is that Minnesota’s oversights included the failure to adopt an official state flag – for 35 years!

It was not until plans were made for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 that the lack of a flag became a real problem. As a part of that grand fair, marking the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the Americas (the fair itself was a bit behind schedule), each of the then 44 states were invited to mount an exhibit at the fairgrounds in Chicago. As the Minnesota display was prepared, the state legislature determined that the occasion called for an official state flag.

The legislature appointed a flag commission and the commission in turn sponsored a design contest open to all Minnesotans. Amelia Hyde Center of Minneapolis submitted the winning entry. Center’s design called for a double-sided flag blue on one face, and white on the other. The Minnesota state seal (which the state had remembered to adopt in 1861) was the focal point. Center placed three dates in the seal: 1819 (the founding of Fort Snelling), 1858 (statehood), and 1893 (the flag’s design). Sisters Pauline and Thomane Fjelde, immigrants to Minnesota from Norway and respected needleworkers, were contracted to produce the actual prototype flag. The Fjelde sisters did such a fine job of it that the Minnesota flag earned a gold medal for embroidery at the Chicago exposition.

Center’s design survives largely intact in our current state flag. The double-sided scheme was dropped in favor of two blue sides in 1957, not for aesthetic reasons, but because a single-colored flag was easier to mass-produce. The Fjeldes’ original silk flag became the property of the Minnesota National Guard. It made public appearances in parades as late as 1919, and then went into storage. The flag underwent conservation treatments in the 1930s, and again in the 1980s, before the Guard transferred it to the Minnesota Historical Society in 1993. Some things are indeed worth the wait.

Matt Anderson, Objects Curator

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5 Responses to “Minnesota’s First State Flag”

  1. Lee Herold Says:

    I enjoyed the July 24th summary of the 1893 flag, and especially that you posted the flag picture. If you look at this flag you see it nearly fills the space, the red ribbon and stars give it a certain exhuberance. The 1957 change was, perhaps in the style of the 1950’s, rather bland.

    The change in 1983, made because of the seal change, did not help. But it did change the image of the Indian being driven out of Minnesota and into the sunset (however far that may be) to only a ghost image of that episode.

    In 2004 a House committee voted to have a new look at our flag. In 2006 a Senate committee did the same. Former Senator Oliver led a public challenge to reconsider the flag.

    I agree. Flags work when they attract people to them, rather than requiring education to understand them. Ask people what does the Minnesota flag look like, and most have no idea; not a success. Former Gov. Perpich preferred the original flag. The best flags, however, are much, much simpler, and very bold. The flag has around 28 symbols, too many to remember or be effective.

    The seal is meant for paper and is fine for that purpose, not to fly.

    Mrs. Center’s flag was pretty and not too bad for 1893, 35 years into statehood. Today, flags are more important and the very thought of having no flag at all impossible. But if it is not popular or recognized is it really any better than no flag at all?

  2. Joel Baird Says:

    It may interest you to know that the home in which Ms Fjelde created this flag at 3009 Park Ave. is still in excellent condition but has been earmarked for demolition by it’s current owner.

    So he can build a parking lot!

  3. Jeanie Chambard-Orth Says:

    Oh my god. Why is our history so expendable?? Can it be moved and not destroyed? I cry inside when we lose our history. So sad. Would this person be an outsider and not care about our history? Just so sad.
    Jean

  4. Jeanie Chambard-Orth Says:

    Joel B. which 3009 Park Ave.?

    Jeanie Chambard-Orth reply on December 10th, 2011:

    Sorry, I found my answer. Minneapolis.



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