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100 Years Ago: October 1917


This is my thirty-fourth installment in a series of short reviews of 100-year old National Geographic Magazines.



As you can see by the cover, this is the much-advertised “Flag Number”.  The time and money put into the production of this issue would have several repercussions in the ensuing months; one of which I will discusses in the next installment.  The other effects of this effort included the fact that the Society was forced to charge 50 cents per additional copies as opposed to the standard 25 cents.  Also, the expense of production necessitated additional measures to emphasize its copyright.  To kill both these birds with one stone, the Society replaced the wording in the cover’s bottom-right banner.  On previous issues that banner read: “25 cts A COPY”, but on this (and subsequent issues) it reads: “COPYRIGHT, 1917”.

The cover list nine sections to this magazine, of course there are more.  While some sections are true articles, the rest are structured more like a “Field Guide” but instead of plants or animals, the topic is “all things flags”.  Some of this field guide takes a more narrative approach while other sections are more a list of descriptions, with links to the flag drawings.  Also documented on the cover are “… 1197 Flags in Full Color and 300 Additional Illustrations in Black and White”.  (Actually, there are 322 black-and-white images as well as 26 black-and-white photographs.)  All the color drawings are numbered 1 through 1197.  In this way, the drawings are linked to the text.


The introductory article in this issue is entitled “OUR FLAG NUMBER”.  It was written by Byron McCandless, Lieutenant-Commander U.S. Navy, and Gilbert Grosvenor, Editor National Geographic Magazine.  The article is a “Making of” piece about this issue.  It starts with a brief discussion of the importance of flags and insignias, especially in war.  They serve as inspirations to personal sacrifice.

Then we get into the meat of the article.  The story of this issue started with Lieut. Commander McCandless who, in 1913 amid a need by other naval officers for a non-existent book of flags, set out to produce one.  He chiseled his own leaden plates and printed a color book with a hand-press.  The demand was so great that the soft metal soon wore away.  Enter the National Geographic Society who induced McCandless to undertake the assembly of the flags of the world for this issue.

In addition to the member copies and standard extras produced by the Society, 5,000 copies for the Army and 5,000 copies for the Navy were produced.  In all, 700,000 copies were produced each having 32 pages in color.  These 32 pages were produced for the Society by the Beck Engraving Company of Philadelphia.  It took 75 workdays (3 months) to produce the 23,000,000 color pages.  To ensure the tints and shade be kept true, the presses were only run in daylight hours.

The article contains three black-and-white photographs (one of them full-page) and an index for the field guide that follows.


The second article is entitled “The Story of the American Flag”.  Between the title and the text is an additional warning that the text and illustration are protected by copyright, and all rights are reserved.  The authors detail the history of the flags of our county from colonial time to the present.  Throughout the article there are numbers in parentheses referencing the flags being discussed.  The article contains twelve black-and-white photographs of which four are full-page.


The next article is entitled “The Makers of the Flag” and was written by Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior.  It is a rather bizarre, one-page essay by him, where he has a personal dialog with the flag.  (Yes, the flag speaks to him.)  The point he is trying to make is that every American who does his or her job is a “maker of the flag”.


The first section of the field guide is entitled “The Flags of Our Army, Navy, and Government Departments”.   It is a true field guide with numbered descriptions for flags 1 through 300.  The descriptions for flags 1 through 8 are rather lengthy; the rest, not so much.  The section contains seven full-color pages (300 flags), two black-and-white photographs (one full-page), and one page with two black-and-white drawings documenting the exact proportions of the U.S. Flag and the Union Jack.

Photo courtesy of Philip Riviere


The second section, “Our State Flags”, displays all 48 state flags as well as 7 territorial flags and the flags of the National Geographic Society and of the Secretary of the Interior.  The descriptions are medium in length and the article contains nine, full-color pages, seven of which are referenced by this section (57 flags).


The third section of the field guide is entitled “Famous Flags of American History”.  The descriptions in this section reference three pages of full-color drawings, two embedded in the previous section (92 flags).  These flags date back to the Viking “Raven” flag.  The descriptions are again medium in length.  The article has nine additional pages of full-color drawings referenced in the ensuing articles.


The fourth section, entitled “Flags of Pan-America”, references five pages of full-color drawings (278 flags).  Embedded within this section are the last six full-color pages referenced by later sections.  The descriptions are short to medium in length for the first 62 entries in this section.  The only documentation for the last 214 flags (3 pages) other than the captions with the drawings, is a short paragraph entitled “The Naval Flags of the World”.

This leaves two flags undocumented, and unreferenced, in the section.  They are flag number 512, “Venezuela Ensign”, and flag number 513, “Venezuela Merchant”.  (Nobody’s perfect.)


Section five is entitled “The Flags of Europe, Asia, and Africa”.  It references three, full-color pages (101 flags).  The descriptions vary from long to short, with most being medium to long in length.  As with the previous three sections there are no black-and-white photographs embedded in this section.


The sixth section is entitled “The Flags of the British Empire”.  It references four, full-color pages (158 flags).  The descriptions vary in length with the first few on Britain proper being quite long, with the many about the colonies being much shorter.  Again, no photographs are embedded.


Section number seven is entitled “Flags of Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany, and Turkey”.  It references one full-color page (38 flags).  The few descriptions range from medium to long.  Again, no photos.


The eighth part of this field guide is entitled “The Heroic Flags of the Middle Ages”.   It references one full-color page (96 flags).  The format for this section is a little different than the previous sections with this being a long text with the number references embedded throughout, instead of a straight forward list of descriptions.  Still no photographs embedded.


The ninth and final part of the full-color field guide is entitled “Pennants of Patriotism 200 Years Ago”.  It references one full-color page (77 flags).  Mainly it documents the flags of Europe in the early 1700s.  Like the previous section, it is written as a text with reference numbers embedded throughout.  No photos, again; but there is still more to this issue.


Continuing the saga of flags, there is an article entitled “The Correct Display of the Stars and Strips”.  There are eight black-and-white photographs embedded in this article. Three of them are full-page.  This article is all about flag etiquette.  While there are no federal laws pertaining to the handling and display of the flag, there are military regulations for which penalties can be severe, even capital.

Most rules are common knowledge: the flag should not touch the ground, burning is the proper disposal method, flying a flag at half-staff is the universal sign of mourning, and flying a flag upside down is the universal sign of distress; but there are a few, less well-known regulations like: international usage forbids displaying of the flag of one nation above that of any other with which it is at peace, a distress flag (upside) can be knotted in the middle to form a “weft” making it easier to see at a distance, and striking the flag (lowering it during battle) is a sign of surrender and anyone attempting to do so with authorization may be court-martialed requiring the death penalty.


The last section of this field guide is entitled “The Insignia of the Uniformed Forces of the United States”.  Because the illustrations in this section are not numbered, there is only a short, generalized description of the images in this section followed by six pages of black-and-white cropped photos (320 insignia).  They show the cap devices, collar, sleeve, shoulder, and arm (rank) insignia on the uniforms of the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Marines Corps, and U.S. Public Health Service.


The last page of the issue is a full-page, black-and-white photograph captioned “MAKERS OF THE FLAG”.  (Not related to Secretary Lane’s article.)  It shows a mother, sitting in a chair, sewing a flag as her young daughter stands beside her.


Embedded within the advertisements after the articles is a full-page ad for bound copies of this issue:  bound in Royal Buckram for $1.00 (postpaid) or bound in Leather for $2.00 (postpaid).



George Wilson

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Replies to This Discussion

Nice work Tom - and love the historical details!

Wasn't there a couple of unique, i.e. special, characteristics of the Army/Navy productions, versus the standard productions?


yes Mel, the "flexi-cloth" buff colored printing were 'for the troops'. They did this a few times again, during WW~2. (w/ supposedly water-proof or waxed-coated) pages, etc.

- S

The special troop issue also had the same back cover as the front cover, i.e. flip it over and it looked exactly the same; had no printing on the binding edge - and had no ads in it...

Tom ~ stellar, thank you !!!

I know you've just been itching & dying to do this installment, heh.

    - Scott

I did kind of go all "Sheldon Cooper" on this one.  I thought about subtitling it the "Fun with Flags" Edition.

Too bad I have to wait another 17 years (September 1934) before the next one.  Just kidding, I'm reading it now.  :-)



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