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At 92, Oregon Flag Still Flies With Own Wings

Huddled over L.F. Grover at the Oregon Constitutional Convention in 1857, a handful of delegates watched a future governor of Oregon, sketch Oregon’s official state seal. William H. Packwood was one of them.

Packwood, great-grandfather of U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, recalled in 1917 that he noticed an empty space in the right-hand corner of the drawing.  His account was published in Oregon’s 1935 Blue Book.

Hoping to add a symbol to the seal, he shared a hunting story with his colleagues. A horse gaurd named Friedman, shot an elk, but when he went in for the kill “his butcher knife was so dull that it would not saw through the hair and hide.” 

Realizing the elk wasn’t dying but merely stunned, a fellow hunter grabbed the elk by the horns until it could be tied down.

“Although the elk imperiled the life of my friend, I could not help but admire the heroic efforts of the noble animal to secure its liberty.”

If they were going to include game on the seal, Packwood argued, the elk was a worthy choice. The committee agreed and with that the seal was complete. 

Learn more about the symbology in the Oregon’s flag in the video above. 

Today the seal centers Oregon’s flag, made official on Feb. 26, 1925. Oregon was one of the last states in the union without one.  

The flag was sewn together by seamstresses at Portland’s famed department store, Meier & Frank, under the authority of an Oregon Senate bill. The directions were brief, but one was truly unique: “On the other side on a navy blue field a representation of a beaver in gold.” 

Oregon is the only state in the U.S. with different images on each side of its flag.

Although individualistic, it doesn’t quite fly by today’s flag design standards.

A comparison of the State of Oregon flag with the City of Portland's. The state's flag is criticized for its poor design, while Portland's is celebrated. 

A comparison of the State of Oregon flag with the City of Portland’s. The state’s flag is criticized for its poor design, while Portland’s is celebrated. 

In a report by the North American Vexillogical Association on the principles of flag design, Oregon’s flag falls short in a few categories. 

  • Use of writing on a flag defeats its purpose. 
  • Seals, coats-of-arms and logos are usually too complex.
  • A flag must be distinctive to avoid being mistaken for another. 

The Oregon flag is one of 20 with a similar blue background. In 2001, NAVA ranked it No. 40 out of 50 in state flags. 

In the past decade, attempts to change the flag have included a call by the Oregonian in 2008 as well as a bill introduced to the Legislature in 2013

If inspired to dust the cobwebs off Oregon’s 92-year-old banner, elected officials, designers and vexillonaires may want to look no further than the state’s largest city, Portland.

NAVA ranked it No. 7 out of 150 for city flags. 

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