Eisenmann’s Flag

In one of its climate-controlled collection warehouses, the Ohio History Connection has several large, metal cabinets used to store textiles. Some of the 554 Ohio battleflags in our collection can be found here. There is also another flag in one of these cabinets. I’m sure it’s one with which you’re quite familiar. After all, you can see it in the top left corner of your browser right now.


Yes, the Ohio state flag is also stored here. For nearly 100 years, Ohio did not have an official state flag. The example in the storage cabinet, however, set the groundwork for changing that. At the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, it became the first Ohio state flag flown in public.

The Pan-American Exposition 
featured displays of state pride  and the new flag–designed by Cleveland architect, John Eisenmann, and commissioned by William S. McKinnon, chairman of the Ohio Commission–symbolically celebrated Ohio’s natural and cultural history.

The red and white stripes symbolized its roads and waterways, while the blue triangle represented its hills and valleys. The white “O” represented the Northwest Territory (and “Ohio’s” first initial), with the smaller red circle inside suggesting a buckeye. Thirteen stars representing the first thirteen U.S. states flanked the circles on the left, while the four stars on the circles’ right denoted Ohio as the fourth new state to enter the Union.

The flag, manufactured by the M.C. Lilley Company of Columbus, Ohio, flew high above the Ohio Building, another Eisenmann-designed feature at the Exposition. [1]
McKinnon liked Eisenmann’s design so much that in 1902, as Speaker of the Ohio House of Representatives, he introduced a bill to make it the official state flag. And the rest, as they say, is history.
For over a century, Eisenemann’s design has endured, giving Ohio one of the most recognizable flags in North America. It remains the only non-rectangular U.S. state flag–it’s technically a swallowtail burgee–and its combination of color, simplicity and symbolism has earned it praise from vexillologists throughout North America. [2] In 2001, the North American Vexillological Association ranked 72 North American flags–Ohio’s was chosen as the 15th best flag on the continent. [3]

Flags are important symbols. They welcome us when we arrive somewhere. They remind us of where we’ve been. They can even teach us about a place. And, as the Ohio state flag shows us, they usually have a fascinating history all their own.

Want to learn more about the Ohio state flag, the 1901 Pan-American Exposition or other Ohio-related topics? Visit Ohio Memory, a collaborative project between the Ohio History Connection and the State Library of Ohio.

[1] http://www.ohiomemory.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p133201ccp2/id/11/rec/1
[2] If you’d heard of vexillologists or vexillology before reading this post, you get a high-five and gold star.
[3] http://www.vexman.net/nnpdf/NN170.pdf

Posted June 19, 2015

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