Detroit, Michigan, City Flag History

Jun 3rd, 2017

Detroit is one of the largest cities in Michigan. It is located on the Detroit River directly across from the waters from Windsor Canada. The city was founded in 1701, and incorporated as a city in 1806. Detroit adopted an official city flag in 1948.



David E. Heineman designed Detroit’s first flag in 1907 and it flown for the first time in 1908, but it was not officially adopted until 40 years later. According to the Detroit Historical Society, Heineman was the descendent of a Jewish-German immigrant. He was born in Detroit, studied at the University of Michigan, served as Detroit’s controller, and was elected to the Michigan Legislature. He conceived of the idea of designing a flag after realizing that the city needed its own flag.


Heineman’s design was meant to represent the city’s history. The meanings he assigned to its features are as follows:


*     13 Red and White Stripes: The original thirteen colonies of America

*     Fleur-de-lis: France – the country that founded Detroit in 1701

*     Gold Lions: Great Britain – controller of the city from 1760-1796

*     Motto “Resurget Cineribus”: It will rise from the ashes

*     Motto “Speramus Meliora”: We hope for better things

*     Seal: Detroit when it was lost by fire in 1805, and its rebirth.

*     Women: One represents the loss of the city, one represents its rebirth



The flag was redesigned in the early 1970s to change the seal shape from an oval to a circle. It was again changed in 1976 to standardize the colors using the Pantone Matching System. The last change to the flag was made in 2000 to reduce the number of colors used in the seal.



In 2004, the North American Vexillological Association, NAVA, conducted The American City Flag Survey. Detroit’s flag ranked 71 out of 150 flags. It does not meet the guidelines of good flag design that are recommended by Vexillological organizations. Most flags that contain a seal ranked low in the NAVA survey.


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