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Emblem representing one of the world’s iconic, diverse cities



The New York flag is a vivid shade that weaves together the city’s rich history, diverse culture and profound symbolism. This emblematic flag, which is proudly displayed at various landmarks across the city, is a testament to New York’s vibrant heritage and the values it holds dear.

From its Dutch origins to its modern-day influence on sports and culture, join us on a journey through the heart of the city’s identity as we unfold the captivating tale of the New York City flag.

What Is the New York Flag?

What Is the New York Flag?

The flag of New York City is a distinct emblem that symbolises the city’s rich history and diverse boroughs. It boasts a vertical tricolour design, with three bars of equal size in blue, white, and orange. Prominently featured in the middle bar is the seal of New York City, also in blue.

This flag design is historically connected to the Dutch heritage of the city. The tricolour arrangement of blue, white and orange draws inspiration from the flag of the Dutch monarchy, known as the Prince’s Flag. This design was originally used in New Amsterdam back in 1625 and served as a precursor to what we now know as New York City.

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The New York City flag’s significance goes beyond just its official use. It is a symbol deeply ingrained in the fabric of the city and its influence can be seen in various aspects of New York’s culture, including the following:

  • Official buildings: The flag is prominently flown at significant locations in the city, such as New York City Hall, which serves as the seat of city government. It is also raised at the headquarters of the New York Police Department and can be found at some city properties, including public parks.
  • Sports teams: Several of New York City’s sports teams have chosen to adopt the colours of the city’s flag as their official team colours. This includes well-known teams like the New York Knicks of the National Basketball Association (NBA), the New York Mets of Major League Baseball (MLB), the New York City FC of Major League Soccer (MLS) and the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League (NHL) [even they moved to the Brooklyn borough of New York City in 2015, continue to use the orange, blue, and white colour scheme].

New York flag history

New York flag history

For the majority of its early history, the City of New York did not possess an official flag or seal. Instead, it flew an unofficial flag that featured a circular blue seal on a white background. This emblem represented the city for many years.

In 1914, a significant event marked the creation of New York City’s first official seal and flag, in celebration of the 250th anniversary of the installation of the first mayor under English rule. The City Art Commission appointed a committee of experts to undertake this important task. This committee collaborated with the New York Historical Society, carefully studying historical seals used by the city government during both Dutch and English rule. They aimed to incorporate the symbolism from these historical seals into the new city seal and flag.

The committee’s proposed flag design was officially approved on April 6, 1915, and it was publicly unveiled on June 24 of the same year.

The design of the flag that we see today was finalised on December 30, 1977, with a subtle modification to the seal. The key change involved the date, which was adjusted from 1664 (when the Kingdom of England took control) to 1625. This change was suggested by Paul O’Dwyer, who was of Irish descent and served as the president of the City Council. O’Dwyer intended to reportedly emphasise the Dutch influence on the city’s history and diminish the British legacy. This decision was not without controversy, as there were alternative opinions on the founding date.

Some argued that 1624 when the city was legally chartered as a Dutch entity would be a more accurate date. Others believed that either 1626 or 1625 might have been chosen just to predate Boston, which was settled in 1630. Nonetheless, O’Dwyer’s proposal was signed into law by the mayor, solidifying the change in the city’s flag and seal, and underlining the city’s historical connection to Dutch origins.

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New York flag meaning

New York flag meaning

The New York flag holds deep symbolism, each element representing a significant aspect of the city’s history and identity.

The elements incorporated in the flag are:

  • Bald eagle: The presence of the bald eagle, the symbol of the United States of America, signifies the city’s connection to the nation as a whole.
  • Native American: The representation of a Native American acknowledges the original inhabitants of the area that is now New York City, paying homage to the city’s indigenous roots.
  • Seaman: This figure symbolises the colonisers of the area, emphasising the role of those who came to establish and build the city.
  • Beaver: The beaver is a powerful symbol, representing the Dutch West India Company, the first company to operate in New York when it was known as Nieuw Amsterdam. Additionally, the beaver is the official animal of New York State.
  • Windmill: The presence of a windmill serves as a reminder of the Dutch history of the city. Windmills were an integral part of Dutch culture and represented the prosperous industry of milling flour.
  • Flour barrels: These barrels hearken back to the 17th century when New York was granted a short-lived monopoly on milling. This monopoly was a pivotal moment that established the city as a commercial powerhouse, contributing to its economic growth and development.
  • 1625: Originally, the year 1664 was used on the flag, which marked the year when the Kingdom of England took control of the region. However, this date was later changed to 1625 to honour the establishment of New Amsterdam, the city’s Dutch predecessor, which was settled in 1624. Despite some debate over the accuracy of this date, it highlights the city’s Dutch heritage and the early roots of its European settlement.

New York flag colours

New York flag colours

The colours of the New York flag have deep historical roots and symbolise the city’s Dutch heritage. Section 2-103 of the New York City Administrative Code defines the flag’s design, specifying that it should consist of three perpendicular bars of equal dimensions. The colours used are orange, white, and blue, with the blue bar being closest to the flagstaff. In the central bar, the flag features the standard seal of the city, which is in blue.

These colours were intentionally chosen to mirror those of the historical flag of the Dutch monarchy. The Prince’s Flag, used in New Amsterdam during the period when the city was under de facto control of the Dutch state, was the inspiration for the flag’s design. This Dutch flag featured an orange band in place of the red typically seen in the flag of the Dutch Republic (Statenvlag). The orange in the flag represents the ancestral constituency of the founder of the Dutch West Indies Company (WIC), William I, Prince of Orange. The WIC, a privately owned but royally chartered company that founded and operated New Amsterdam, inherited these heraldic colours.

The committee responsible for designing the city’s flag noted that they followed a common practice found in other tricolour flags like the French and Belgian flags, placing the darkest colour (blue, in this case) next to the staff.

Interestingly, there was a debate about whether to have a horizontal or vertical tricolour design in line with historical Dutch flags. While the New York Historical Society initially proposed a horizontal arrangement, the committee decided to keep the flag’s bars arranged vertically.

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