How to Fold the American Flag

by Brett & Kate McKay on June 29, 2012 · 62 Comments

in Civic Skills, Manly Skills, Visual Guides

Hold the flag waist-high with a partner; the flag should be parallel with the ground.  Bring the upper and lower halves of the flag together, folding it lengthwise in half.  Fold the flag lengthwise again, bringing the lower half up to the top. The field of stars should be visible on the left side.  A. Bring the striped corner of the folded edge up to meet the top edge of the flag, making a small triangle. B. Fold the triangle over itself, making the triangle point inward. C. Continue triangular folding.  The triangular folding continues until the entire length of the flag is folded. When the flag is completely folded, only a triangular blue field of stars should be visible. Tuck the remaining rectangle into the triangle’s folds.

In honor of next week’s Fourth of July.

Illustration by Ted Slampyak

{ 62 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Doug June 29, 2012 at 6:22 pm

In honor of this brave and glorious country, thank you for showing this. Going to a military school, I find it embarrassing that even some of the other kids here can’t do this.

2 Phillip June 29, 2012 at 6:43 pm

A lot of people in the military don’t know this, Doug. I graduated Navy boot camp nearly three months ago, and we were never taught this. I don’t know why it isn’t worked into the curriculum or what the other branches do.

3 Laguna Beach Fogey June 29, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Do you have instructions on the proper way to burn or otherwise destroy the American flag?

Seeing, of course, that it represents a federal regime that for decades has done everything within its power to harass, persecute, tyrannise, biologically replace, and murder genuine American citizens.

Just asking.

4 Lucas June 29, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Brett and Kate, thank you for putting this up. Too few Americans know how to fold their own flag. On a side note, I was always told that a properly dimensioned flag will end up being folded in the triangle pattern thirteen times, for the original thirteen colonies.

5 adam June 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm

I’ve been able to fold a flag since I was a kid, and people are always amazed at that. I just tell them, “Just fold it like a paper football.” It’s not rocket science, and everyone should know how to do it.

6 Kory June 29, 2012 at 11:36 pm

As a military honor guard member it is nice to see an accurate representation of how to fold the US flag properly. Thank you

7 Ryan June 30, 2012 at 12:04 am

I remember learning this early in Boy Scouts. I’m also appalled that no one knows how to do it either. The Navy did teach me this in ROTC too.

On the first two folds in half, offset it by an inch such that the blue field is further out. It helps ensure that no red or white shows when you’re done. The tighter the folds, the better the result. There should be four stars on the front when you’re finished.

Every American should know how to do this.

8 Jr June 30, 2012 at 1:44 am

Also, every american who flys a flag should understand proper protocol for military salute (done by anyone in uniform), and display procedures including but not limited to height of flag in relation to other flags on the same or separate flag poles and protocol for display at night

PS: http://www.halfstaf.org to receive notifications of half mast orders for your state. A MUST HAVE resource if you fly yours on a flag pole

9 Jr June 30, 2012 at 1:44 am

oops. http://www.halfstaff.org

sorry for the typo

10 Phil R June 30, 2012 at 11:14 am

Great article to see. It’s a little sad to hear that they don’t teach this to the military when every Tenderfoot Scout in the country has to know how to raise, lower, display, and fold the flag.

11 Ian Toltz June 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm

What the heck is going on in the 4th panel? That would only be possible if the stars were centered on their side, with stripes above and below.

12 Ian Toltz June 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm

Ugh, never mind, going back I realize that’s correct. Wish I could edit/delete stuff. Ah well, testament to my own stupidity. :)

13 Jody June 30, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Lucas, the thirteen folds include the first two folds (in half).

14 Todd - Fearless Men June 30, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Love Ted’s illustrations for you guys. Does anyone know who even made up the specifics of flag-folding??

15 Luis June 30, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I’ve done this on many funeral details, and I can tell you this is a perishable skill. I wish they would teach this in basic training. I graduated Marine Corps boot camp and didn’t know most of this. I feel ALL military personnel should get some sort of training in this. They teach us how to fold damn near everything we’re issued. Why not the flag?

16 Corey June 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Should be taught in funeral homes too. After performing funeral honors for over 8 months it never ceases to amaze me how many funeral directors have it improperly folded. There are also knock-off flags that have smaller stars and as a result require a 4-6inch flat fold forward before you make your first left to right triangle fold.

17 Tuco June 30, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Cub scouts.
thatisall.

18 allswagga June 30, 2012 at 5:25 pm

What do the Folds Represent?

The (1) first fold stands for liberty. In America, we are free to own property, to elect our government representatives, to attend the church of our choice, to openly disagree, to travel freely without restriction, to pursue an education and the “American Dream.” The white stripes of the Flag symbolize our liberty.

The (2) second fold represents unity. Abraham Lincoln stated that a house divided against itself cannot stand. National unity in the face of natural disasters and external threats, such as those posed on September 11, 2001, has preserved our constitutional republic.

The (3) third foldstands for justice. In America we believe that every person stands equal before the law and is deserving of just and fair treatment. The laborer and the lawyer are both entitled to justice in America. The blue of the Flag embodies justice.

The (4) fourth fold symbolizes perseverance. To persevere means to endure, to remain steadfast despite severe hardship and obstacles. The Continental Army suffered repeated setbacks before claiming any significant victory. Yet throughout the brutal winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, they persevered.

The (5) fifth fold represents hardiness. Hardiness is the ability to withstand difficulty while remaining resolute despite adversity. The aggressors in World War II underestimated American hardiness. They thought that Americans were soft, incapable and unwilling to endure hardship. Our soldiers and sailors such as those who fought at Normandy and Korea proved them wrong.

The (6) sixth fold stands for valor. Valor means courage, the act of defending what is right even in the face of opposition. Nathan Hale, the Revolutionary War patriot, was convicted of spying by the British in 1776. Before he was hanged, Hale displayed great valor with his words, “I only regret that I have but one life to live for my country.” The red color in the flag represents valor, symbolic of the blood shed by all the American heroes who sacrificed for our freedom.

The (7) seventh fold symbolizes purity. A pure nation is free from taint, from what weakens, pollutes or renders it ineffective. Our Founding Fathers illuminated freedom’s path for us when they created the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The pure intent of these documents enabled the United States of America to become the greatest of all nations, a land of liberty which beckons to all who are seeking asylum from persecution and oppression.

The (8) eighth fold represents innocence. Innocence implies that one is unacquainted with evil and thus free from sin. George Washington once stated, “The love of my country will be the ruling influence of my conduct.” Americans pay tribute to him and to all those who give devoted service to uphold freedom’s ideals without selfish or evil motivations.

The (9) ninth fold signifies sacrifice. To sacrifice is to give up something valued for an ideal, belief or goal. America exists today because of the sacrifices of countless Americans. Many have made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives in battles waged during the Revolution, the World Wars, In Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and other locations around the world. We pay tribute to them and to the firefighters, policemen, soup kitchen volunteers, members of our armed forces and numerous others who continue to sacrifice for freedom.

The (10) tenth fold stands for honor. One who possesses honor possesses a keen sense of ethical conduct. To honor a person or ideal is to display respect for them. We give thanks for all who have acted with honor in the founding and growth of America. We pray that each citizen and all those who represent us in government will conduct themselves in a manner that will continue to bring honor to our nation and to our Flag.

The (11) eleventh fold symbolizes independence. Independence is the state of being free, of being able to make unrestricted choices within the law as free individuals and as a free nation. Ever since our nation’s birth, Americans have fiercely defended their independence against all oppressors. Patrick Henry articulated the sentiments of his fellow Americans past, present and future when he uttered those famous words, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” America stands as an icon of freedom and independence for the oppressed of the world. May it always remain so.

The (12) twelfth fold represents truth. Truth is the body of real events and facts. It is preserved through adherence to reality and the avoidance of falsehoods. America was built upon God-given truths articulated in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, they the are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Adherence to these truths has made America a great nation. We pledge to continue this noble legacy of truth so that in America, every man, woman and child may forever be free.

Source: http://www.flagandbanner.com/flags/how_to_fold_american_flag.asp

19 Brad June 30, 2012 at 10:04 pm

allswagga, thanks for all those wonderful details. Too many people have developed the thought that it is wrong to be patriotic and that the flag is nothing to them. I know a few kids in their 20′s that say they would never put their hand on the their heart when the flag is raised or the National Anthem is played. They are lay abouts with no future that hope for a socialist America. Our country was great when we had some self respect and patriotism. Now some fools feel a need to apologize for being American. Yes, I said it – fools. Sorry for the rant, but this issue just came up over a discussion about the upcoming 4th of July celebration.

20 Jeff June 30, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Great graphic. I still remember this from boy scouts.

What else would be interesting is a history of folding the flag. How did this method of folding the flag develop? Why is it better than other methods?

21 nicholas July 1, 2012 at 1:24 am

my roommate was helping me pack to move out and he rolled it up and stuffed it in a box.

22 Sean Grogan July 1, 2012 at 8:38 am

Just wanted to add for flag care, the folded flag should have no red showing.

As far as buring, you can give it to a local VFW or Knights of Columbus.

23 Nick July 1, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I wasn’t in scouts or something similar so I never got to learn this. Very cool graphic and easy to follow, thanks guys!

24 Marc July 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm

Why exactly do you have to fold the flag this way?

25 Xenocles July 1, 2012 at 7:08 pm

Laguna Beach Fogey-

If you mean properly as in according to established rules or decorum, you should burn the flag to dispose of it when its physical condition makes it unsuitable for display or to prevent its capture by an enemy. You would typically burn the folded flag solemnly in a brazier, though in exigent circumstances the thought is what counts. The watchwords are respect and dignity.

If, as I suspect, you mean properly as in how best to express your dissatisfaction with what the flag represents to you, use your imagination and respect the basic rules of fire safety as well as the applicable local fire safety laws. Be careful with lighter fluid and remember that once the fire really gets going, waving the flag will intensify the flames and could potentially endanger you and those around you. There are some instructive pictures online of careless protesters of this sort.

26 Derek July 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Know what my favorite part of America is?

Our independent, non-conformist, rebellious, free-thinking nature that lets so many of us view a flag as what it is: a piece of fabric.

27 David July 2, 2012 at 12:17 am

Laguna Beach Fogey-

To add to what Xenocles says if in fact your desire is to burn the American Flag in protest. Keep in mind that the fact that you have the right and ablity to burn it in protest; is the very thing that the flag symbolizes,Freedom! The freedom to protest your dislike of the government. Thousands have died, millions have been injuried defending those rights. Including your right to slap everyone of them in face by digracing the very symbol that they have shed their blood for.

28 guy July 2, 2012 at 1:54 am

Great articles thanks

29 Asriel July 2, 2012 at 2:27 am

When I was in the Navy, I used to love folding the flag, it was an honor.

30 Darren Bush July 2, 2012 at 2:39 am

I find the halfstaff website very interesting. I am confused by the number of times the flag is at half-mast here in Wisconsin, especially when there’s no apparent reason for it. I get it for holidays, death of a prominent public figure, etc., but sometimes it seems arbitrary. I see it half-mast at one particular car dealership (the Cadillac/Hummer dealership) when the other flags a few miles down the road are at full-staff. The flag is HUGE, and appears to be more for marketing purposes than anything (maybe they’re mourning really crappy sales). The rest of the businesses in the area have regularly-proportioned flags.

31 Tyr July 2, 2012 at 6:47 am

I’ll probably get lynched for this, but I find American patriotism… cute.

But your country is young, you’ll get over it in a couple hundred years :)

32 Chris Comtois July 2, 2012 at 11:02 am

I worked in the entertainment industry on a cruise ship, and one of the entertainers used a large flag in his act – he finished with a patriotoc song. After the showwhen I removed the flag from the wall, more often than not an “old timer” would come up on stage to help me fold it. Invariably they would take the end with the stripes so they could do the triangles. Not one of these fellows ever made any comment about the sitting President or any political jabs – they simply saw a task that needed doing correctly and were proud to have the skill to do it.

I submit you’d be hard pressed today to find many young men with the skill, let alone the courage to step out of their comfort zone and offer to help fold a flag in a public setting like that. Kodos to those that would!

33 Kirk July 2, 2012 at 11:57 am

@Laguna Beach Fogey:

The easiest way to dispose of an unserviceable United States Flag properly is to take it to your local American Legion post. In many cases, they will have drop-off places outside to conveniently leave an unserviceable flag and they will dispose of it the right way. As a legionnaire myself, I can tell you it is one of our organization’s missions.

34 dannyb278 July 2, 2012 at 12:24 pm

folding/unfolding the flag was the only thing i thought worthwile of getting up at 0430 at basic. Always like putting up/taking down the flag.

If you have a flag and intend to keep it up 24 hours a day, make sure to keep it lit at night. otherwise, take it down.

35 Noah July 2, 2012 at 9:46 pm

When I served in the Presidential Honor Guard for the Coast Guard I saw the flag folded hundreds of times at funerals around the country and in Arlington. I’ve saluted it on thousands of occasions and still get chills when taps is played. I’m proud to fight for the flag and what it represents, especially the right for others to speak out against it or protest. I feel like there’s enough of us on the right side to keep it flying, and most willing to die or make others pay dearly for it.

36 Rigel July 3, 2012 at 4:27 am

Excellent guide. I was taught flag folding and care by my retired navy dad, as well as a summer job i had for 4 years working at a marinal. Everywhere else, even scarily frequently in my old boy scout troop, I’ve seen it stored/folded in ridiculous ways.

37 Bryan July 3, 2012 at 9:59 am

I was talking to my wife about the flag on my way to work… Having been to many other countries, I sometimes feel our flag is simply used as a prop, something that people put in their yards only on 4th of July, or putting it atop ice cream sundaes or the like. In Spain, many are proud to have it displayed anywhere. Indonesia also proudly displays. I feel *most*Americans only show their pride when the olympics or world cup comes around. As Noah stated above, being a military memberm, I still get chills whenever i hear the national anthem, and see the flag proudly waving.

I was thinking about how I’ll be in my 80s when America’s “tricentennial” comes around. It will be amazing.

38 Troutt July 3, 2012 at 10:40 am

When I was in elementary school in the early 90′s our principal was the grandfather of my classmate, and my mom was our crossing guard. This meant we were there later than other students. We were able to alternate who got to help his grandfather, our principal, take down the flag everyday. He ensured we handled it with dignity and respect. I can remember the sense of pride and honor that came from that simple yet profound ritual.

39 jb- July 3, 2012 at 2:37 pm

@ the guys who were curious about the other branches of service. I’m active duty AF and we were required to do flag folding during leadership school. At my current assignment I fold the flag every few months during retreat.

40 Oliver July 3, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I learned this in public elementary school in the early 90′s – we had “flag duty” which rotated through pairs of volunteers on a weekly basis. Most of us kids recognized it as the privilege it was, and I’m glad that we had the opportunity.

41 C.j. July 4, 2012 at 11:56 pm

I am a teenager whose proud to say that my father taught me and my siblings how to fold the American flag.

42 Jesslyn July 5, 2012 at 8:58 am

Here is sharing a poem from Roger J. Robicheau for the American Independence Day!

“Americans in strength unite
This union born in freedom’s light

United States, how sure we are
We’ll pull together, near and far

The world can see of what we’re made
Each state is of the highest grade

Determination, filled with pride
Our people’s will won’t be denied

Our founding fathers set to stay
The road we’ve traveled to this day

A quest for right cannot be wrong
With help from God, we will stay strong

Support our troops ranks number one
For the job they do is never done

When forced they put it on the line
True patriots, when called they shine

Let’s raise Old Glory with a cheer
And thank all soldiers, past and here”

43 Tom July 5, 2012 at 10:00 am

Having just been to a funeral, there should be a a 2 inch fold on the stripe side of the flag, prior to starting the triangle fold. This will ensure a tight flag at the end without any extra fabric.

44 Coop July 5, 2012 at 11:28 am

Ah thanks for the post. It is something every man should know how to do, but few actually have a clue. I’d enjoy a post about how to properly dispose of a flag too!

Thanks to my boy scout days I remember most of the flag etiquette, but I’m sure I have forgot a decent amount.

45 Paul July 5, 2012 at 1:26 pm

There is no legislated aspect ratio for the U.S. flag. That is, flags can be nearly-square to quite oblong and still be correct. This is one reason why some flags fold so the last “stripe” triangle ends right at the edge of the blue field and some do not.

46 Taylor July 6, 2012 at 7:02 am

Out of curiosity- does anybody know the procedure for folding other national flags? (Especially Canada’s?)

47 Adam July 6, 2012 at 9:46 pm

great post here to pay tribute to our great nation. i have served and also dedicated a full year in the honor guard. Prior to my honor guard service, I did not know how to properly fold the US flag, it does entail quite a bit of teamwork though. Presenting these folded flags to our fallen hero’s families brings about a great amount of pride in our great nation and reflection on what sacrifices these men and women make everyday.

**By the way, key to a good fold is in a technique called cutting. You need two people for the fold, one standing on the union side, the other is folding the flag while pulling to keep the flag as horizontal and straight as possible. Person standing on the union side is there for leverage. Pulling/tugging on each triangle fold. When your fold gets up towards the union, aim the corner of the flag just short of the first union star. Cut each fold sharply from then on until you have the excess to tuck. The person standing on the union side tucks the remaining fabric in. It helps to crease a corner of the fabric to tuck in to fit the triangle form. You should have a perfect 5-3-1 star combination. Looks sharp, highly resembles the cocked hats that are traditional forefathers once wore. Happy 4th everyone!

48 Dan July 12, 2012 at 11:28 pm

I taught my daughters how to display, raise, lower and fold the flag. Just seemed something they should know how to do. Maybe someday they’ll pass that little tidbit of knowledge on to their own kids.

49 C Alvarez July 23, 2012 at 9:53 am

To Marc, the reason for the tri-fold is that it symbolizes the tri-fold hat worn during the War for Independance. The average soldier wore a simple tri-fold hat.

To answer the disposing of the flag. I didn’t see a full response. When disposing of a flag, it is best to give it to a veterans organization, I beleive that was mentioned. If that is not an option, you first cut the stars from the stripes. The blue field is then burned in a respectful way, and the ashes are then buried. The stipes may be disposed of in the trash or burned seperately.

A few other flag notes:
if you have a patch or sticker the blue field is always forward.

There are regulation flag sizes for the government and are recommended for all Americans.

When you finish folding the flag, don’t forget to tuck the end into the flag. You may need to fold the corners, and always smooth out any creases as best as possible.

When flying a flag on a short pole and a bracket, get one with two positions, the up and one that is almost parallele with the ground. This one is used for when half-mast is called for.

A flag that is flown with the blue field down is a symbol of distress.

While freedome of speech is very important, any flag that is flown that has anyting on it’s face other than the red and white stripes and the blue field with stars is not an official flag and should not be flown.

For more information on flags you can go here:
http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/UniformedServices/Flags/US_Flags_Display.aspx

50 CLAY September 19, 2012 at 9:03 pm

I know that once you are ready to start folding the triangles, there are 13 folds. Can anyone tell me what each fold represents?

51 bryce October 17, 2012 at 5:57 pm

@clay. The 13 folds represent the original 13 colonies. Side Note: Just finished “Seal Team Six”. Awesome read about becoming a Navy Seal and giving your life for the country. Essentially the book is about fighting through pain, beating extreme odds, loyalty, courage and being a man.

52 Jib Halyard October 18, 2012 at 9:47 am

@ James:
The Canadian flag is folded (and I seriously hope this comes as no surprise to anyone) the same way as the Union Flag. The “tri-corn hat” triangle shape would be highly inappropriate for either flag, as we happened to be on the other side in that particular conflict…
see link:
http://www.cmp-cpm.forces.gc.ca/dhh-dhp/pub/oth-aut/pcf-cpd/index-eng.asp

53 Nick November 1, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Why is it, on many of these articles where the point is to become a better man, is there always a handful of people that like to place themselves above both the authors and the comments supporting them? How is being rude to other men manly?

Seriously, our mothers taught us a great lesson. If you don’t have anything constructive to add to the conversation, or the article you’re reading isn’t your cup of tea, maybe this isn’t the article you should be commenting on.

Maybe we need an article on manly etiquette.

54 logan M November 7, 2012 at 5:30 pm

This is a good article! I believe EVERYONE should know how to fold a flag! This is great. I may have to link it back to my website. It’s one of those traits that you should know “just in case”. Like how to change a tire. Anyway, good post guys!

55 Npgoodwin June 29, 2013 at 4:44 pm

I would love to see you do a guide to proper handling and care of the flag. I see so many people abuse the flag, that folding it improperly is just one in a long line of abuses they commit.

56 jerry June 29, 2013 at 4:57 pm

you fold the flag with your heart not your hands. Semper Fidelis.

57 Jim K. June 29, 2013 at 5:58 pm

In my own experience as an ROTC cadet and later as an Army officer, flag folding usually was taught by senior NCOs to more junior personnel in the course of either retreat ceremonies or funeral details. Army units used to get tasked regularly for civilian funerals of any honorably discharged personnel if requested, but I understand now the DoD now declines to provide honors unless the deceased is retired military. I was once OIC for an old vet who served as a private in WWI.
Professional soldiers take the flag folding task seriously. I have seen NCOs presented with an “unsat” flag (usually a poor tuck) during a funeral order their honor detail to refold the flag rather than present it to the family improperly folded.

58 Reid June 29, 2013 at 7:55 pm

I remember this from the Scouts. I still remember the reasons for each fold & proper way to handle & fly the flag. It is a show of respect to the Nation for which it stands, to the ideals in which it was founded & to the many people before us who have defended her both, military & citizen alike. I for one will proudly teach this to my 3 sons. You may not agree with the individuals who govern us from time to time, but the least you can do is show respect for this beautiful Nation that we collectively & freely form & the symbols that represent her.

59 Ben G. June 29, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Thank you so much for posting this! I am in love with flags, and I love seeing them and seeing them be respected and loved.

60 Maciej Jankowski June 30, 2013 at 3:19 am

It always struck me how lovingly Americans celebrate their patriotism and ‘support their troops’.

61 Steven L July 2, 2013 at 10:45 pm

You can take a flag to a local scout troop and they will usually retire it for you.

As a scoutmaster I have helped my troop retire many flags. We usually do it only once a year. There is no set ceremony.

This last year I found a great ceremony online where I read a poem about the flag while it was being torn into pieces. The each scout there (we had about 30) was given a piece and one by one they carefully placed it on the fire and watch it burn. At the end we placed the stars banner on the fire. This touched many of the scouts and I’ve seen them have a greater respect for the flag after they participated in the retirement.

If you get a chance to witness a retirement – they are very spiritual events.

62 stadtmann July 9, 2013 at 9:02 am

As a european I am a bit confused.On what occasion do you fold your flag?

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