In the event that Puerto Rico becomes the 51st American state, will this result in the alteration to the U.S flag to include 51 stars instead of 50?

I'm not from the U.S, but one of those ubiquitous facts from my childhood, "The 50 stars on the Flag of the U.S.A represent its 50 states", is hard to forget.

Possible argument in favour of altering flag:

Well, if the Puerto Ricans finally decided to become an American state, it'd be prudent to throw in another star (51 states = 51 stars). Besides, it's not like adding just one star is going to be difficult (it'd be hardly noticeable anyways).

Possible argument against altering flag:

Since its just one star, why bother putting it on at all? It'd be best to avoid the bureaucratic/political mess that the addition of another star would create.

  • 8
    It would be very noticeable because the stars are arranged in a simple pattern. Jun 11, 2017 at 22:10
  • 6
    With American politics, I wouldn't be surprised if this provided more impetus for D.C. statehood just to keep the number of stars to an even number. Jun 12, 2017 at 6:24
  • 5
    @ToddWilcox: or to keep the current number of states.
    – PlasmaHH
    Jun 12, 2017 at 10:06
  • 9
    If your argument against altering the flag were compelling, the flag would have 13 stars, not 50.
    – phoog
    Jun 12, 2017 at 14:06
  • The story of how a student got Eisenhower to adopt the current design to improve his grade on a school project is fun: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_G._Heft
    – jejorda2
    Jun 12, 2017 at 14:21

1 Answer 1


Each time a new state is admitted to the Union, a new star is added on the following 4th of July (Independence Day in the USA). This was last done on 4th July 1960, following the admission of Hawai'i in August 1959. Prior to that, the flag had 49 stars for just 1 year, as Alaska joined in January 1959.

The update in the flag is required by the US code and to not update the flag would require an act of Congress. There is no requirement on all flag owners to replace their flags on that date, but new flags after that day should bear the new design. The choice of design is borne by the executive.

51 stars can be achieved by 3 rows of 9 stars, alternating with 3 rows of 8.

  • 5
    Wikipedia has some possible future designs
    – Panda
    Jun 11, 2017 at 6:56
  • 6
    @WordBear that would require a change in the Law. America loves its flag, and it loves its traditions.
    – James K
    Jun 11, 2017 at 7:41
  • 13
    @WordBear Proper respect for the flag involves replacing it on a regular basis, anyway. And burning the old one. Jun 11, 2017 at 7:46
  • 12
    @WordBear First, there is no reason to worry about symmetry; symmetrical designs for 51 stars are quite possible (it is actually pretty hard to tell a 51-star flag from the 50-star flag at a glance if you aren’t looking for it). Second, flags get replaced on a regular basis anyway, and in any event the costs associated with a new state would be pretty significant no matter what you do—cutting costs on flags is rather insignificant. But third and most importantly, such a change would be viewed as an immense insult against the new state—it would in some sense “not really count.”
    – KRyan
    Jun 11, 2017 at 14:27
  • 6
    @DavidRicherby If you put them up side-by-side? Sure. If you were aware a change might happen, and looked? Certainly. But if someone just has an American flag behind them, or an American flag graphic on an image, or stuff like that where the flag isn’t the focus? Your brain just recognizes it as an American flag and doesn’t investigate it further. See how there were however many WH staffers who saw the 39-star flag that Hot Licks mentions, and didn’t notice. John Oliver’s bit on DC statehood used a 51-star flag without mentioning it until the end, when he points out “you didn’t even notice!”
    – KRyan
    Jun 11, 2017 at 15:30

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