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Oregon seals and flags

The Oregon flag was an embarrassment, not because of the way it looked, but because it wasn’t there — officially that is.

In 1925, when the town of Lexington, Massachusetts, invited Oregon to send the state flag to an anniversary celebration of the great Revolutionary War battle, government officials realized they didn’t have one.

True, there were Oregon flags that had been proudly waved for decades by well meaning civic groups in parades and special events, but it didn’t take much of an examination to realize that nearly all of these flags were different. Most relied on a version of the Oregon state seal, and that in itself was a problem.

Oregon has had three kinds of government since 1843, a provisional, a territorial and, since 1859, a state government. By 1900, at least eight different “official” state seals had been in use, and when people needed a flag, they either chose one of these seals, or combined bits and pieces of what they thought the seal should look like.

At the turn of the last century, when the Native Daughters of Oregon asked Secretary of State Frank Dunbar for an impression of the official state seal, he noted that it didn’t conform to the law written by the Oregon Legislature at the time of statehood.

“While personally aware of this fact,” he said, “owing to the number of years the seal has been in use, I have deemed it best not to change it.”

The Legislature made the change in 1903, but by adding a rising sun, horses and other items not included in the original law, it too did not conform. Intermittent demands for a truly official seal continued for years.

Col. Henry Dosch, a Portland merchant, had been appointed director of exhibits for the upcoming Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition when, in 1902, he asked why Oregon had no flag.

“We surely have a Betsy Ross amongst us who can give us a flag,” he said.

It appears that Betsy was busy. Not until 1925 did the Oregon Legislature approve an official state flag — two, to be exact.

One went to the Post Office department in Washington, D. C., and the other to the Lexington celebration. When the Lexington flag returned, it was presented to Oregon Gov. Walter Pierce.

Oregon’s only official flag went up in smoke when the state capitol burned in 1935. For now, at least in Oregon, the flag existed only on paper.

A year later, the Oregon State Motor Association revived the flag with a plan to place it in every schoolhouse and government building in the state.

Their design was based on a drawing of the 1925 flag that had appeared in Oregon’s 1930 Blue Book, a state issued almanac and directory.

Both the 1925 flag and those issued by the motor association carried the state seal that had been changed in 1927. It isn’t the seal we see on the Oregon flag today.

There have always been complaints that the Oregon flag rarely flies from an Oregon flagpole, so, when a quiet change was made to the official state seal in the 1950s, no one probably even noticed.

A few years ago, the Oregonian newspaper ran a contest to redesign the state flag. It wasn’t the first time that idea ran up the flagpole, but, in the end, like all the others, it just didn’t fly.

Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including“History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at newsmiller@live.com.