A Boy Scout designed the 50-star American flag

Bob Heft loved flags, and he loved politics.

So when his U.S. History teacher handed out a homework assignment in 1958, Heft had the perfect idea.

He would design something nobody had seen: a 50-star version of the American flag.

Heft, a high school junior and Boy Scout in Troop 113 of Lancaster, Ohio, had been reading the news and knew that Alaska was poised to become our nation’s 49th state, with Hawaii soon behind.

So he cut out 50 stars from iron-on material and arranged them on some blue fabric. He sewed this new field of stars to his family’s 48-star flag.

“I had never sewn in my life,” Heft told StoryCorps in 2009. “I watched my mom sew, but I had never sewn. And since making the flag of our country, I’ve never sewn again.”

Heft’s teacher reacted with confusion.

“The teacher said, ‘What’s this thing on my desk?’ And so I got up and I approached the desk and my knees were knocking,” Heft told StoryCorps. “He said, ‘Why you got too many stars? You don’t even know how many states we have.'”

The final grade: B-minus.

Not terrible, until you consider that Heft’s friend picked up five leaves off the ground, taped them in a notebook and got an A.

Heft was upset, so the teacher offered what seemed like an impossible-to-achieve bit of consolation.

“If you don’t like the grade, get it accepted in Washington,” Heft remembers the teacher saying. “Then come back and see me. I might consider changing the grade.”

Two years and 21 letters and 18 phone calls to the White House later, Heft received a call from President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“Is this Robert G. Heft?”

“Yes, sir, but you can just call me Bob.”

“I want to know the possibility of you coming to Washington, D.C., on July Fourth for the official adoption of the new flag.”

On July 4, 1960, Heft stood next to Eisenhower as the 50-star flag was raised over the U.S. Capitol.

And what about Heft’s teacher?

“He said, ‘I guess if it’s good enough for Washington, it’s good enough for me. I hereby change the grade to an A.'”

In the decades after, Heft inspired people young and old with his follow-your-dreams story. He was a seven-term mayor of Napoleon, Ohio. He spoke extensively — as many as 200 engagements a year — and visited the White House 14 times under nine presidents.

Heft died in 2009, but his legacy survives every time we fly his 50-star creation.

And if the U.S. ever adds a 51st state — perhaps Puerto Rico?

Heft was prepared. Back in 1958 he designed a 51-star version that uses six rows of stars, alternating between rows of nine and eight.

Robert-Heft-memorial

7 Comments

  1. Great story. Another flag one from that era.

    My own original Troop 777 in Carle Place NY was founded in 1959. As was common, our Congressman presented it with a flag that was flown over Congress that year.

    What made our flag unique for years to come was that it was a rare 49 star flag as they were only made for that one year when Alaska was a state and Hawaii wasn’t!

  2. I am from Napoleon, Ohio. He was pretty much a HERO locally, and everyone shares and is proud to know the star of this story

  3. The Bob Heft story sounds great, but there’s no evidence for anything other than he was possibly one of many people who came up with the same design that was separately proposed by the military and adopted by President Eisenhower. The military had proposed designs for 48+ star flags at least by the early 1950s, and there is no correspondence I am aware of from the government to Heft acknowledging “his design.”

    The Heft story is similar to the Betsy Ross story, which the majority of serious historians now believe is a myth. While she did make ensigns for the U.S. Navy, there is no evidence establishing that she designed the Stars and Stripes.

  4. Extraordinary story. Another banner one from that time. What made our banner one of a kind for a considerable length of time to come was that it was an uncommon 49 star banner as they were made for that one year when Alaska was a state and Hawaii wasn’t!

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