California’s “Bear Flag” Centennial

February 3, 2011 marked the centennial anniversary of the California state flag. One hundred years ago last week, California’s governor Hiram Johnson signed an act that made California’s “Bear Flag”—which had been in use since 1846—the official state flag.

Celebrations marking the California flag centennial were minor, if not nonexistent. An article in the Sacramento Bee provided pieces of an interview with Bill Trinkle, a Sacramento attorney and flag historian. Trinkle founded the Bear Flag Museum, a nonprofit online museum and library, dedicated to educating adults and children about California’s state flag.

In honor of the California flag’s centennial, Trinkle wrote a blog entry, celebrating the occasion. The blog entry included photographs of Governor Hiram Johnson, a historic flag, and a copy of the Senate Bill. The entry also included a whimsical picture of the California state flag that adorned the fierce grizzly bear with a party hat and a horn. Because the Bear Flag Museum exists solely on the web and does not have a physical location, Trinkle did not plan any celebratory events, but instead hoped that his fellow Californians would visit the Bear Flag Museum online and learn about the California state flag.

Trinkle said that he and his wife would toast the flag with a bottle of Bear Flag Wine, a creatively blended and reasonably priced line of California blended wines.

California’s State Flag, also known as the “Bear Flag,” has an interesting history. Designed by William Todd (Mary Todd Lincoln’s cousin), the Bear Flag was first flown when U.S. Explorer John C. Fremont and a group of insurgents who captured Sonoma from Mexico. The first flag was most likely hand drawn on a piece of cotton cloth. The original stripe on the flag was a strip of red flannel, most likely from a petticoat or pair of long underwear. The word California was spelled incorrectly on the flag’s original version, and was corrected in later editions. The grizzly bear was very common in California in the mid-nineteenth century and was respected for its ferocity, even in the presence of danger.

Read more about the Bear Flag’s history on the United States Flag Store blog.

Dixie Reid, “100 years ago this week, bear flag became California’s official banner,” The Sacramento Bee, January 31, 2011.
Bill Trinkle, “Happy 100th Anniversary to the California State Flag,” Bear Flag Museum Blog, February 3, 2011.

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