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Freedom Fabric: A History of the Stars and Stripes

On July 5, the 50-star version of the American flag becomes the longest-serving flag in U.S. history.

The last time a star was added to the flag was July 4, 1960 — nearly a year after Hawaii became the 50th state to join the union.

But since 1777 — when congressional and presidential declarations defined the number of stars and stripes on the flag — there have been more than two dozen official versions of the flag, and many unofficial versions.

For the father-son team of Peter and Kevin Keim, the beauty and historic significance of the flag has led to a lifetime of passionate collecting.

The Keims' upcoming book, A Grand Old Flag: A History of the United States Through Its Flags showcases their extensive antique flag collection and narrates the intriguing history behind each piece of fabric.

It was only in 1912 when President Taft issued an executive order defining flags' proportions and arrangements of stars. Before that, flagmakers constructed flags in myriad sizes, proportions and materials.

Peter, the elder Keim, began his collection in 1968 while he was antique shopping in central Pennsylvania. He bought a hand-sewn, 13-star flag, which remains his favorite in a collection that contains a flag with every number of stars from 13 to 50.

The Keims' full-page photos trace flags from their early beginnings on British wool bunting to the synthetic kind most common on today's front porches. They also separate flag facts from fiction — including debunking the common misperception that the first flag was designed by Betsy Ross.

A Grand Old Flag will be released by DK Publishing in September.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.