Issue 6 

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December, 1998                                                        Vol. III, No. 2: Issue 6


The Flag of Columbus, Ohio

(Fourth in a series)

    Few city flags have such an interesting and convoluted history as that of Columbus, Ohio. The first city flag was adopted February 12, 1912, 1 described in a hand-written ordinance as follows:

                On a blue field a half-wreath of buckeye leaves, green, and a half-circle of 16 stars, the whole enclosing a national shield bearing a gilt circle in which appears a galley, or vessel, of the fleet of Christopher Columbus, after whom said city is named, said shield and vessel to be in proper colors, above and clutching the shield to be an eagle, with outspread wings, proper, guarding a gold star, making the seventeenth and representing Ohio.2  Above and between the wings of the eagle to appear the cupola of the state capitol, surmounted by the lettering " Columbus, Ohio," gilt, in old English letters. 


Columbus, OH 1912-1929

    Of course a description of the central device (later known as the city's coat-of -arms and, used alone, its corporate seal 3 ), leaves considerable latitude to the artist interpreting the words. An early such rendering in color shows the ship as brown with white sails, a red cross on the mainsail. The sea is shown as blue. The flags shown on the mainmast and the stern do not appear to have color, since they are so small. The shield, of course, has red and white stripes in its lower portion, and white stars on a blue background at the top. The eagle is the bald eagle, brown with a white head. The capitol is white, and presumably has the state flag flying from the top, but that flag is too small to distinguish any features.

    On January 28,1929, the city council rescinded the earlier ordinance and adopted the following:

                 That the official flag of the city of Columbus be as follows:

                  That the flag be made up of three vertical bars; chrome yellow at the left, scarlet red at the right, and white at the center.

                   That the seal and coat of arms of the city of Columbus as adopted by resolution of council, February 12, 1912, be placed on the center of the white bar. 

                   That the size of these flags be of the same dimensions as the standard sizes of the flag of the United States.

    Whether such a flag was ever manufactured in 1929 is unknown, Nevertheless, in 1974, when the writer, who had already acquired a copy of the 1929 ordinance, was visiting Columbus city hall in order to photograph the city flag, he was surprised to find a vertical tricolor of red, white, and blue displayed in council chambers. The white stripe had the city seal on its center, as expressed in the 1929 ordinance. How long that flag had been there is a matter of conjecture, but probably at least since 1965.  4

Columbus, Ohio ca. 1965-1976

      The writer contacted the city clerks office to point out the discrepancy between the ordinance and the manufactured version. An investigation was undertaken, but nobody could explain how the wrong flag had come to be displayed in council as the official one. At length, in April of 1976, the correct flag was made and presented to council in a special ceremony. This flag had vertical stripes of equal size, yellow, white and red. The seal, on the white stripe, had a medium blue background (a legacy from the first flag's field), and showed the capitol dome somewhat reduced, with a U.S. flag on the dome.

Columbus, Ohio (1929) 1976-ca. 1985


    By 1985, however, the flag, now widely flown throughout the city, had undergone further design changes. Up to this time the vertical stripes were in a proportion of 1:1:1, but since the stripes are not specified by ordinance, this was later altered to 1:2:1, evidently to accommodate the seal more comfortably, which is shown a bit larger than previously. Also, the mainsail of the ship shows the red cross as one more typical of the fifteenth century, and the flag from the mainmast is a long pennant, with yellow and red rectangles in a pattern that in heraldry would be called per pale and barry. The flag at the stern is a horizontal tricolor, yellow, red, yellow ( for no apparent reason other than the use of both the Spanish and the current city of Columbus colors. The sea is dark blue, contrasting somewhat with the more medium shade of blue of the seal's background. (JP)

Columbus, Ohio  ca. 1985 - present 

     1 The date in the ordinance is clearly shown (more than once), yet a booklet published by the City of Columbus in 1962 describing the city charter shows the date as September 12, 1912.

        2 Ohio was the seventeenth state to be admitted to the Union, March1, 1803.

         3 So defined in a city ordinance dated December 13, 1958, which also stated that when used as a seal, the design could be reproduced in a single color, e.g., on stationery.

        4 A letter dated April 15, 1965 from Gordon F. Serrott, the City Clerk at the time, to Kenneth R. Huff, a NAVA member, who was doing research on city flags, describes the red, white and blue flag.

1912           1965           1985   


GWAV 1999

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