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What Is the History of Oregon's State Flag?

By Britt Archer
Updated May 17, 2024
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State lawmakers officially adopted Oregon's state flag in 1925. The adoption was a response to a postmaster’s request for an official flag to send to Washington, D.C., to be displayed in a grouping of the 50 state flags. Department store seamstresses had sewn the design. This original artifact went on to be displayed at Eastern Oregon University.

Oregon is distinct in that it is the only one of the 50 states whose official flag displays a design on the front which that does not match the design on the back. The two-sided state flag is a rarity today but at one time many state flag designs were similar. The other states chose to modify their flags, making the reverse side a mirror image of the front, or printing a design on one side only, because it costs too much money to produce flags with different front and back images.

A 2001 survey conducted by an association of experts in flag design and history determined that Oregon's state flag is among the worst designed flags, placing it at number 40 out of the 50 state flags. Their reasons include the fact that the double-sided flag costs taxpayers too much money to have it produced. It also is hard to identify it from a distance. The flag used by the state’s Military Department led to the design of Oregon’s state flag. For the state’s sesquicentennial in 2009, a newspaper ran a contest seeking a new design, but a new design was never approved by lawmakers.

Oregon’s state flag is blue. In the center of the flag is an image of the official state seal, and above it are gold letters that spell out, “State of Oregon.” Below the heart-shaped, eagle-topped seal is printed the year Oregon achieved statehood, 1859, also in gold. Stars surround the seal on the flag, and there are 33 of them to signify that Oregon was the 33rd state to join the union. Oregon achieved statehood after Minnesota, which became the 32nd state only nine months earlier. Oregon’s state flag displays the image of a beaver on its reverse side because legislators named the beaver Oregon’s official animal, and "The Beaver State" is Oregon’s official nickname.

The front of Oregon’s state flag is full of symbolism that reflects the state’s history and its wealth of natural resources. As seen on the seal on the flag’s face, there is a Conestoga wagon, also called a covered wagon, representing the pioneers who braved primitive traveling conditions across the plains on the Oregon Trail to populate the fertile territory. The soil is rich and beneficial for fruit tree and other crop production, leading to the symbols of a sheaf of wheat and a plow. A pickax represents Oregon’s mining industry, and the state’s abundant natural beauty is shown in a setting sun sinking toward the Pacific Ocean, which borders Oregon to the west.

Plentiful trees and a majestic mountain also grace the flag’s face, and elk represent the state’s wildlife. There are also two ships depicted, one an American vessel and the other one British. They represent the treaty between the United States and Britain in 1846 that stipulated Oregon belonged to the United States.

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