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Pennsylvania (U.S.)

Last modified: 2023-09-09 by rick wyatt
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[Flag of Pennsylvania] image by Clay Moss, 11 March 2009

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One of the original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania is represented by a star and a stripe on the 13 star U.S. flags.


The first Pennsylvania State flag, which bore "The arms Pennsylvania worked thereon", was adopted by the Executive Council in 1778. It was used to identify the State's wharf in Philadelphia. The flag is listed several times in the inventory of State property in the custody of the watchman. (Background color is not stated, however one theory is that the The background may have been red. This would be in keeping with the red background of the majority of surviving PA revolutionary colors. And, the red facings authorized for PA troops in 1779. Note: many but not all of the surviving Revolutionary War colors do have backgrounds which match their 1779 facings.)

Also, in the late 17th century the Mayor of Philadelphia paid for a flag for the Province of Pennsylvania to be used upon the return of Governor Penn from a visit to Antigua. (Design unknown)

From Pennsylvania Emblems Page:
Pennsylvania's State Flag is composed of a blue field on which is embroidered with the State Coat of Arms. The blue, which is the same blue in the United States' Flag, signifies Justice and Loyalty. During the Civil War, many Pennsylvania regiments carried flags modeled after the U.S. Flag, but substituted Pennsylvania's Coat of Arms for the field of stars. An act of the General Assembly of June 13, 1907, standardized the flag and required that the blue field match the blue of Old Glory.
Jim Ferrigan, 11 December 2002

Most actual Pennsylvania flags that I have seen have the horses fimbriated in white.
Clay Moss 11 March 2009

Coat of Arms

[Coat of Arms of Pennsylvania] image by Joe McMillan

The blazon of the Pennsylvania coat of arms used officially by the Secretary of the Commonwealth's office is based on one prepared for the General Assembly in 1875: "Escutcheon - Party per fess, azure and vert. On a chief of the first, a ship under sail; On a fess, or, a plough, proper; On a base of the second, three garbs or; CREST - An eagle rousant, proper, on a wreath of its colors; SUPPORTERS - Two horses sable, caparisoned for draught, rearing respectant. MOTTO: Virtue, Liberty, and Independence."

The first known blazon of the arms is a description of the form in which they were used on the state seal, entered in the minutes of the General Assembly in 1809 provided for two additional elements surrounding the shield: "On the sinister a stock of maize, and dexter an olive branch." It also specified that the crest is a bald eagle. Both of these features are included in the official representation of the full achievement of the arms even though they were omitted from the 1875 blazon.

The Pennsylvania constitutional convention of 1776 had provided for the adoption of a seal to be used to authenticate commissions. The seal produced in response to this direction had a rococo escutcheon with curved upper and lower edges to fill the entire inner area of the seal with the same charges found on the modern coat of arms. This version of the arms was in use by April 1777 when it appeared on currency issued by the state (photographs at  An impression from a 1780 die of this seal is in the Canadian national archives and is shown on

The earliest known full achievement of the arms with crest and supporters dates to 1779, when Caleb Lownes was paid 35 pounds for engraving the arms for the Supreme Executive Council of the state. Other early representations include a 1785 painting by Jacob Rutter in the old state supreme court chamber in Independence Hall in Philadelphia (see and an engraving that appeared in the Columbian Magazine in 1787. (Henry W. Moeller, "Two Early American Ensigns on Pennsylvania State Arms", Lownes's engraving for the Executive Council was the first to show the supporters, crest, and motto, and the corn and olive branches beneath the shield. It shows the horse supporters in draft harness, as in the current official depiction. Lownes shaded the horses with engraver's cross-hatching, but did not use Pietrasancta heraldic hatching on them to indicate colors as he did on the shield itself. The Rutter painting, which seems to be the oldest surviving full color depiction, has the horses white, an example that was followed by most official renderings, including those on state militia colors, until after the Civil War.

As mentioned above, the first blazon of the arms officially adopted was developed pursuant to an act of the General Assembly of March 2, 1809, directing the preparation of a verbal description of the existing, worn-out die of the great seal for use in procuring a replacement. According to Zieber's Heraldy in America (1895), the blazon developed for this purpose, entered into the assembly's executive minutes on July 1, 1809, read: "The shield shall be parted Per Fess, Or, charged with a plough, Proper, in chief; on a sea wavy, Proper, a ship under full sail, surmounted with a sky, Azure; and in Base, on a field Vert, three Garbs or. On the sinister a stock of maize, and Dexter an olive branch. And on the wreath of its colours a bald eagle--Proper, perched Wings extended, for the Crest.  Motto--Virtue, Liberty, and Independence." The description of the base as green (vert) and the sky in chief as azure were in error; the seal that was being described as well as all four of the other early depictions--the 1777 currency, the Lownes engraving, the Rutter painting, and the Columbian Magazine engraving--show the chief white or silver (argent) and the base blue (azure).

The standard version of the full arms as blazoned in 1875 was developed after the state legislature expressed unhappiness with the inconsistency in how different artists depicted them, particularly with regard to the posture of the horses. The legislature named a commission in 1874 to determine the "correct" version of the arms. This commission issued its report in 1875, settling on a version that conformed closely to its understanding of the Lownes 1779 engraving, with the horses black and "caparisoned for draught," and the escutcheon surrounded by a rococo gold frame. However, the commission followed the 1809 language in stipulating the chief as blue and the base as green, not the white and blue of the Lownes model.

The arms as shown on the present great seal, following a pattern adopted in 1893, still conforms to the 1809 description, with the escutcheon, crest, and flanking branches but not the supporters or motto. Apart from the obvious connection of the charges in the arms with agriculture and commerce, each of them derives from symbols used in Pennsylvania prior to independence. Under the Penn proprietorship, each county used a seal with the shield from the Penn arms (Argent on a fess  sable three plates) surmounted by a distinctive crest. The crest for Philadelphia County was a ship; that for Chester County a plow. The wheat sheaves are generally ascribed to Sussex County, once part of Pennsylvania but by the time of the Revolution part of Delaware. (Sussex is also represented by a garb in the arms of Delaware.) In addition, the arms of the City of Philadelphia adopted in 1701 had both a ship and a garb as well as other charges.

The use of the Pennsylvania state arms on a flag was first authorized by the General Assembly's act of April 9, 1799, which provided for issuing colors to units of the Pennsylvania militia. Each regiment of infantry possessed a pair of colors. The first, called a state color, was similar to the Stars and Stripes but had the state coat of arms added to the blue canton, surrounded by stars representing the states of the Union. The regimental color was blue with the coat of arms on the center. Originally, the regimental designation was placed within a ring of stars in upper hoist; later it was painted or embroidered on a scroll above the coat of arms. The standard for cavalry regiments was of the same design as the infantry regimental color, but smaller.

Pennsylvania's Civil War military flags, as well as a few dated to the pre-war period, are preserved in Harrisburg and can be viewed at The best of the regimental colors and standards, in my opinion, is the standard of the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, which is well preserved and has a particularly vigorous depiction of the arms. The state color of the 85th Pennsylvania is an excellent example of the Stars and Stripes with state coat of arms pattern. Both of these, as well as the other flags in the digital collection, can be reached through the search page at

Sources not mentioned above:

  • Elizabeth W. King (July 1946), "Seals of Our Nation, States, and Territories, National Geographic
  • Smith (1975) - Smith's Flag Book of the United States
  • Benjamin F. and Barbara S. Shearer, State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide (2002)
  • The Institute of Heraldry, U.S. Army, Records Department, File 840-10 Heraldic Item, Flag: Pennsylvania; Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission
Joe McMillan, 15 March 2004

Governor's Flag

[Flag of Governor of Pennsylvania] image by Hemendra Bhola, 23 December 2008

A white flag hangs outside the Governor's Reception Room - Pennsylvania is one of only fifteen states with such a flag. According to records in our Correspondence office, the Governor's flag which hangs outside the office was acquired by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the late 1960's during Governor Raymond P. Shafer's administration at an approximate cost of $1,200. The flag is sewn of Benberg Rayon and features more than 300,000 individually embroidered stitches. It is the only known example of the Governor's flag in Pennsylvania. History on display protocol is unclear but it appears that the flag is used for special occasions such as the Inauguration, etc.
Jayanne Hogate, E-Communications Coordinator, Governor's Press Office

In response to my question about the two red scrolls with white lettering that appear on the flag above and below the coat of arms, she replied:

"The red scroll reads the following: above the seal "The Governor"; below the seal "Commonwealth of Pennsylvania" "

Incidentally, I can tell you that this is not the first Governor's Flag as flags with this design have appeared on the Inaugural platform at least as far back as 1923. I have also seen the flag in film footage of the 1955 Inauguration. I haven't been able to determine when the flag was first designed, though.
EbLibrarian, 27 March 2003

Bicentennial Flag

[Bicentennial flag of Pennsylvania] located by Valentin Poposki, 5 September 2006

State Police Flag

image by Paul Haines, 14 January 2023

Here is the Pennsylvania State Police Flag. I tried getting an actual photo of the flag in front of our local state police headquarters, but a couple of troopers came out and stopped me saying that they don't allow photo's being taken of the building, so didn't get an actual photo of the flag, but I was able to find one online.
Paul Haines, 14 January 2023

Firefighters Memorial Flag

§ 49.1. Firefighters' Memorial Flag
(A) ESTABLISHMENT.-- There is hereby established a Firefighters' Memorial Flag for this Commonwealth.
(B) DESCRIPTION.-- The flag established in subsection (a) shall be a field of blue with a gold keystone in the center which surrounds a Maltese cross, and, at the bottom of the blue field, in gold capital letters, there is shown the phrase, "Lest We Forget."

The so-called "Maltese" cross is undoubtedly the U.S. firefighters' cross, a cross paty with wavy/embowed outer edges. Too bad the law doesn't specify the color of the cross or whether it has the traditional devices (ladder, hook, nozzle, axe, etc.) depicted on it.

The keystone is the traditional badge or emblem of Pennsylvania and comes from its nickname, the Keystone State. It is used for a number of state purposes, including as the background for state highway markers, and is also the basis of the trademark of various Pennsylvania-based companies, including Heinz Foods and the old Pennsylvania Railroad.

Joe McMillan, 3 May 2002

State Military Crest

image by Joe McMillan, 21 April 2000

The state military crest, which is the crest used in the coats of arms of units of the National Guard, as granted by the precursor organizations of what is now the Army Institute of Heraldry. The official Institute of Heraldry blazon is "A lion rampant guardant proper holding in dexter paw a naked scimitar argent hilted or and in sinister an escutcheon argent on a fess sable three plates. [Based on the arms of William Penn, founder of the colony of Pennsylvania.]"
Joe McMillan, 21 April 2000