Each of our 50 states are distinguished by their individually designed and adopted state flags. Most of these flags — including five territories and our capital district — were created between 1893 and World War I.
Our state of Oregon is one that is rich in history. One of the most iconic symbols is our flag, which was adopted in 1925 — one of the last states to introduce one. In addition, we are the only U.S. State to feature different designs on either side of its flag; only the flag of Massachusetts bore a similar design, before it was changed in 1971 to be single-sided.
The story of our flag is rooted in the early 19th century. Oregon was founded as an independent nation in 1843. The original ruminations on the flag design were inspired during this period. Specifically, by the vast numbers of beavers that roamed the territory. Predating the flag design, the animal’s importance can be traced back to the early days of the fur trade.
In the 1820s, fur trappers began to explore the Pacific Northwest, including what is now our state. The beaver was highly prized for its fur, which was used to make hats and other items. The fur trade played an important role in the early development of Oregon, and served as one of the leading industries that attracted settlers to the region.
The Oregon Treaty of 1846 officially established the Oregon Territory, eventually becoming Oregon. The Oregon Trail — a 2,000-mile-long route stretching from Missouri to our state — became an important part of American history, eventually establishing the Pacific Northwest.
Our official state seal featuring the beaver was widely used on official documents and other items, but it wasn’t until many years later that it was incorporated into a flag.
Our state delayed adopting a flag, only doing so after Portland’s postmaster, J.M. Jones, requested one to present to the U.S. Post Office Department for display. The front of the design shows a golden heart-shaped shield with an eagle fixed atop the sigil.
Above the bird’s outstretched wing reads the “STATE OF OREGON” and “1859” below. The year represented our statehood.
Surrounding the centermost part of the flag are thirty-three five-pointed stars signifying Oregon as the thirty-third state to join the Union. On the reverse is the aforementioned beaver, perched atop a log and facing right.
The elements are golden on a navy blue field — now our state’s official colors.
In 1925, Governor Walter Pierce signed Senate Bill 195, An Act Adopting a State Flag. He wanted something to represent Oregon in the all-state flag display at the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington in April of that year.
The design was inspired by the state’s nineteenth-century military flag. Then, it was a standard regimental flag with the state seal on a nearly-square blue field. The new state flag altered the proportions and placed the beaver on the back.
What is believed to be our state’s first flag design was created by Marjorie Kennedy and Blanche Cox, employees of the Meier & Frank department store. Both women, alongside other individuals, are pictured giving the Postmaster General the flag.
It was created to be hung in Washington, D.C.; the photograph is archived in the Oregon Historical Society Research Library.
It wasn’t until 1953 that the Oregon legislature enacted a law that required the state flag to be flown over schools, courthouses, and other public buildings.
The symbols on the heart-shaped golden shield stand for independence and sovereignty. The numerous characters on the shield represent the abundance of natural resources in our state, coupled with our local history.
Depicted on the gold shield centered on the flag is a blazing sun setting over the Pacific Ocean. Additionally, there’s topography of nature, including mountains, forests, and a Conestoga wagon, all representing the natural resources and splendor of our state. Finally, the plow, complete with a sheaf of wheat and a pickax, signified the early agriculture and mining industry of the area.
The departing British Man-of-War and the arriving American trading vessel means that claims were made to the land by both Great Britain and the United States simultaneously.
The eagle and the banner express support for the Union that Oregon joined in 1859.
2008-09 Proposed Revision
During the Oregon Sesquicentennial in 2009, The Oregonian newspaper created a statewide contest for a redesign of the flag. The contest generated 2,500 entries. After the contest had started the voting process, there was a request for the publication to add an 11th option, “NONE OF THE ABOVE.” This last option was voted on the most.
An unforeseen result of the contest: the original 1925 flag design, once believed lost in the 1935 fire that destroyed the state capitol, was found framed in a stairwell at Eastern Oregon University’s Pierce Library. Governor Walter Pierce’s grandson had donated the flag to the library in honor of his late grandfather in 1954.
In 2013, another flag design was introduced to the state Senate for an updated look. However, the bill didn’t pass the Senate, so the flag remains the same.
Do you want to learn more about Oregon? Check out “The Founding of Portland.“