A 17-year-old high schooler designed the current U.S. flag as a school project

by Mohak Sisodia

A 17-year-old high schooler designed the current U.S. flag as a school project

June 15, 2021

We have all had to do projects throughout our school lives, but Late Robert G. Heft did a project that flies high on White House's rooftop flagpole.

How was the 50-star Flag Born?

In 1958, 17-year-old Heft was assigned an American History project by his history teacher, Stanley Pratt. Students were asked to prepare something that showed their interest in their history. Heft, inspired by the Betsy Ross story and hearing speculations that Alaska and Hawaii could both soon gain statehood, decided to update the 48-star American National Flag.

In the 48-star flag, the stars were arranged in 6 rows of 8 stars each. It is mandatory to arrange the stars in a symmetrical pattern, and so Heft spent 12 hours conjuring a design and then sewing without knowing how to sew. He put the stars in four rows of five stars between five rows of six stars in his design.

"Bob" Heft was the designer of the current United States 50-star flag. He has also designed a 51-star flag that would be used if a new state joins the United States.

Grade Time

When Heft’s teacher saw his project, he wasn’t impressed and only gave him a ‘B-‘. He told Heft that the project lacked originality and asked Heft if he even knew how many states there were at the time. Heft protested against his low grade. In a 2009 interview with StoryCorps, he said that the goal of a new flag is to add stars so that no one can tell if there’s a change in the design, and he felt that his design did justice to that. His teacher asked him to get his flag accepted into Washington and that he would then consider giving him a higher grade.

Challenge Accepted

Heft accepted this challenge and spent the next two years dialling up the White House and writing letters, racking up 21 letters and 18 phone calls in the process, to get in touch with the administration. He also reached out to one of his state representatives, Walter H. Moeller from Ohio, who advocated for Heft’s design. During this time, a 49-star flag briefly flew at the White House after Alaska became a state. After Hawaii became a state, Heft received a call from the then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who informed Heft that his flag was chosen out of thousands of submissions. On July 4, 1960, President Eisenhower personally invited Heft to witness his creation’s adoption as the national flag.

Heft's Life and the Flag's Journey

Heft went to college and became a high school teacher and later a professor—his flag few over 88 embassies and every state capitol building. He was also the mayor of Napoleon, Ohio, for 20 years. His flag has been flown over the White House while five presidents have taken to the office. 

Heft kept his original flag with himself for the rest of his life. He didn’t stop with the 50-star design. He created a 51-star flag that had six rows that started with a row of nine stars and alternated with a row of eight stars, which, before his demise in 2009 at the age of 69 in Saginaw, Michigan, he handed over to a state representative.

The Longest-Running U.S. Flag

The U.S. national flag’s design consists of stars and stripes; The stars represent the number of states while the red-and-white stripes indicate the 13 original colonies.

In 2007, the 50-star flag, an American history project of a high-schooler, became the longest-running U.S. flag.

Heft’s flag overtook Betsy Ross’ 48-star flag that was in use for 47 years (July 4, 1912 – July 3, 1959) as the longest-running U.S. flag and is still in use more than 60 years after he first designed it.


Grade Up?

Robert G. Heft did get his grades improved after his teacher stayed true to his words and gave him an ‘A’.


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