Flag of California

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Flag of California.svg
Name The Bear Flag
Use Civil and state flag, state ensign
Proportion 2:3
Adopted February 3, 1911
Design Based on flag flown during the Bear Flag Revolt. Contains a single red star, a red stripe along the bottom, and a grizzly bear.

The Bear Flag is the official flag of the state of California.[1] The precursor of the flag was first flown during the 1846 Bear Flag Revolt and was also known as the Bear Flag.

Current flag

Law and Protocol

Metrics for the Flag of California

The first official version of the Bear Flag was adopted by the California State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Hiram Johnson in 1911 as the official state flag.[2]

The 1911 statute stated:

The bear flag is hereby selected and adopted as the state flag of California. ... The said bear flag shall consist of a flag of a length equal to one and one-half the width thereof; the upper five-sixths of the width thereof to be a white field, and the lower sixth of the width thereof to be a red stripe; there shall appear in the white field in the upper left-hand corner a single red star, and at the bottom of the white field the words 'California Republic,' and in the center of the white field a California grizzly bear upon a grass plat, in the position of walking toward the left of the said field; said bear shall be dark brown in color and in length, equal to one-third of the length of said flag.

Vertical display

In 1953, the design and specifications for the state flag were standardized in a bill signed by Governor Earl Warren. The Californian state flag is often called the "Bear Flag" and in fact, the present statute adopting the flag, California Government Code Section 420, states: "The Bear Flag is the State Flag of California."

Under California Government Code Section 439, the regulations and protocols for the proper display of the flag of California is controlled by the California Adjutant General:[3]

The Adjutant General shall, by regulation, prescribe rules regarding the times, places, and manner in which the State Flag may be displayed. He shall, periodically, compile the laws and regulations regarding the State Flag. Copies of the compilation shall be printed and made available to the public at cost by the Department of General Services.

When the flag is displayed vertically, it is rotated 90 degrees clockwise such that the bear and star face upward and red stripe is on the left.[4]

The flag is also used as the state ensign.[5][6]


The modern state flag is white with a wide red strip along the bottom. There is a red star in the upper left corner and a grizzly bear facing left (toward the hoist) in the center, walking on a patch of green grass. The size of the bear is 2/3 the size of the hoist width and has a ratio of 2 by 1. The grass plot has a ratio of 11 to 1.[7] The five-point star is actually taken from the California Lone Star Flag of 1836.[4]

"Monarch" the bear
Official rendering of the bear

The bear on the current flag of California is claimed to have been modeled on the last Californian grizzly bear in captivity.[8] The bear, named "Monarch", was captured in 1889 by newspaper reporter Allen Kelley, at the behest of William Randolph Hearst.[9] The bear was subsequently moved to Woodwards Gardens in San Francisco, and then to the zoo at Golden Gate Park. After the bear's death in 1911, it was mounted and preserved at the Academy of Sciences at Golden Gate Park.[10]

The 1953 law includes an official black and white rendering of the bear as well as the plot of grass and brown tufts. This drawing and other specifications that define the flag's colors and dimensions are identified as "54-J-03". [11]

In 2001, the North American Vexillological Association surveyed its members on the designs of the 72 U.S. state, U.S. territorial, and Canadian provincial flags and ranked the flag of California 13th.[12]


The 1953 legislation defined the exact shades of the Californian flag with a total of five colors (including the white field) relative to the 9th edition of the Standard Color Card of America (now called the Standard Color Reference of America).[11] It is one of only four US state flags that does not contain the color blue (the other three being Alabama, Maryland, and New Mexico).

Color Cable No.[11] Pantone[4] Web Color[13] RGB Values
     White 75001 Safe #FFFFFF (255,255,255)
     Old Glory Red 70180 200 #B71234 (183,18,52)
     Maple Sugar 70129 729C #BD8A5E (189,138,94)
     Seal 70108 462C #584528 (88,69,40)
     Irish Green 70168 348 #008542 (0,133,66)
  • Seal is used for the dark shading of the bear, the 12 darker tufts in the plot of grass, the border of the plot and the lettering "CALIFORNIA REPUBLIC".
  • Old Glory Red is used for the star, the bear's tongue and the red stripe at the bottom of the flag.
  • Irish Green is used for the grass plot.
  • The bear's claws are also accented with white. The left front and rear paws have four white claws while the right rear claw displays three. The front right paw does not contain highlighting.


Lone Star of California

Last known Californian Lone Star flag flown after the Declaration of Independence from Mexico, Nov. 5, 1836. It is now held at The Gene Autry Western Museum in Los Angleles.
1836 California Lone Star Flag

California supported Spanish rule, not just because Californios were proud of their Castillian heritage, but because Mexico showed little virtuous interest in California, a country that lay thousand of miles to the northwest of Mexico. Mexico refused to send settlers to California, instead paroling some of Mexico's most hardened criminals ("Cholos"), creating much unrest as the cholos descended into banditry or were dependent on public handouts to keep from violence. The span from 1822, after news that Spain was backing away from its great northern colony reached California, was marked by unrest and revolt.[14]

In 1836, California declared independence from Mexico. Gov. Juan Alvarado and his good friend, Isaac Graham and his Tennessean Indian fighters, led a successful revolution against Mexican rule. During the first revolt, rebels captured the capital Monterey and thence declared California "a free and sovereign state." These great successes, however, were resented by some southerners such as Juan Bandini, who sparked a civil war with his friend Carlos Antonio Carrillo. The independent new Republic of California was faced with a civil war with neither side willing to take dishonor in yielding to the other. As a compromise, Gov. Alvarado approached Mexico and asked if California could rejoin with Mexico, but as an equal among equals under the confederate Constitution of 1824. Mexico consented. Thus, California retained all its independent rights as a "free and sovereign State" while benefitting from Mexican military protection.

The Lone Star Flag of California contained a single red star on a white background.[4] One last original flag is archived at the Autry National Center.[15]

The Original Bear Flag

The first Bear Flag with its designer, Peter Storm, ca 1870.
Digital reproduction of the first Bear Flag.
Bear Flag monument on the Sonoma Plaza.
Todd's original Bear Flag, photographed in 1890.
Digital reproduction of Todd's Bear Flag.
Digital reproduction of the first official Bear Flag, credited to Pio Pico, affixed to the bottom of California's Declaration of Independence of 1846.

The original Grizzly Bear Flag was designed by Peter Storm in anticipation of ending oppressive Mexican rule over the Free and Sovereign State of California, for all time. Versions of Storm's Bear Flag were raised for the first time in Sonoma, California, in June 1846 on a date between the 14th and the 17th,[16] by the men who became known as the "Bear Flaggers", including William B. Ide.[17] The exact creation date is at least somewhat unclear. However, U.S. Naval Lieutenant John Missroon reported the flag's existence as of June 17, 1846.[18] California had been part of Mexico since Mexican independence in 1821 as the department of Alta California, and a province of New Spain for many years before that.

One Bear Flag was designed by William L. Todd, a cousin of Mary Todd Lincoln.[19] According to the book Flags Over California, published by the California Military Department, the star on the flag Began in the 1836 California Lone Star Flag. William Todd, in an 1878 letter to the Los Angeles Express, states that the star was drawn using blackberry juice and in recognition of the California Lone Star Flag. The bear was designed to be a symbol of strength and unyielding resistance.[4]

According to the Sonoma State Historic Park, the construction of the flag was described as such:[20]

At a company meeting it was determined that we should raise a flag, and that it should be a bear en passant [a heraldry term signifying that the bear is walking toward the viewer's left], with one star. One of the ladies at the garrison gave us a piece of brown domestic, and Mrs. Captain John Sears gave us some strips of red flannel about 4 inches wide. The domestic was new, but the flannel was said to have been part of a petticoat worn by Mrs. Sears across the mountains…I took a pen, and with ink drew the outline of the bear and star upon the white cloth. Linseed oil and Venetian red were found in the garrison, and I painted the bear and star…Underneath the bear and star were printed with a pen the words 'California Republic' in Roman letters. In painting the words I first lined out the letters with a pen, leaving out the letter 'i' and putting 'c' where 'i' should have been, and afterwards the 'i' over the 'c'. It was made with ink, and we had nothing to remove the marks.

— William L. "Bill" Todd, artist of original Bear Flag

The bear on the first bear flag and other early bear flags more closely resembles the more common American black bear than a grizzly, seen in the lack of shoulder hump and narrower muzzle.[citation needed] Moreover, the first bear flag closely resembles the coat of arms of Bern, Switzerland, its capitol city. The coat of arms displays a black bear walking toward the left with fierce claws and a protruding tongue. Switzerland was the home country of John Sutter, who established Sutter's Fort, in the area which would spawn the California Gold Rush and eventually become Sacramento, California's state capitol.

The original Bear Flag and the republic it symbolized had a brief career, from about June 14 until July 9.[21] On July 7, 1846, Commodore John Drake Sloat of the United States Navy's Pacific Squadron first raised the 28-star American flag at Monterey, the capital of Alta California, and claimed the territory for the United States.[21] This revived the earliest claims on California by his namesake, Sir Francis Drake (in 1579), and made good American colonial claims on the lands from the Atlantic to the Pacific, "from sea to sea" in the 17th century.

The state flag flying at San Francisco City Hall

Two days later, on July 9, 1846, Navy Lt. Joseph Warren Revere arrived in Sonoma and hauled down the Bear Flag, running up in its place the Stars and Stripes. The Bear Flag was given to young John E. Montgomery (son of Commander John B. Montgomery of the USS Portsmouth), who would later write in a letter to his mother "Cuffy came down growling"—"Cuffy" being his nickname for the bear on the flag.

The Bear Flag given to young Montgomery returned with the USS Portsmouth to the east coast of the U.S. in 1848, but in 1855 was returned to California.[22] The flag was given to California's two senators John B. Weller and William M. Gwin. This flag was donated to the Society of California Pioneers on September 8, 1855, and was preserved at the Society's Pioneer Halls in San Francisco until it was destroyed on April 18, 1906, in the fires that followed the great San Francisco earthquake.[22] Today, a replica hangs on display in the Sonoma Barracks, or El Presidio de Sonoma. There is also a statue in the plaza at Sonoma, California, commemorating the raising of the flag, the Bear Flag Monument.

The Civil War period

During the secession crisis and the early part of the American Civil War in 1861, California was divided between supporters of the union and supporters of southern secession. Sympathizers of the south in Los Angeles County and San Bernardino County showed support for secession by flying the Bear Flag instead of the Stars and Stripes.[23]

Original photograph of the JP Gillis Flag, flown by Constitutionalists over Sacramento, CA, ca 1861-1865.
Digital reproduction of the Gillis flag

During the war to preserve the United States, Union soldiers protected the West against secessionists who ran up Confederate flags in many places, including above the California statehouse in Sacramento, then disappearing before they could be caught.[24] The motto of the rebels was "The Constitution as it is, the union as it was." [citation needed] On July 4, 1861, during Independence Day celebrations in Sacramento, Democrat and veteran, Maj. J. P. Gillis celebrated the independence of the United States from Britain and the secession of the Confederacy by unfurling a flag based on the first Confederate flag, the Stars and Bars, but containing seventeen stars rather than the Confederate's seven, and marching down the street to the cheers of proslavery individuals. Unionist Jack Biderman denounced Gillis, tore the flag from his hands, and taunted secessionists to try to take the flag back. No one tried. Because Gillis' flag was seized by Jack Biderman, it is referred to either as the "Biderman Flag" or the "Gills Flag."[25]

Flag of the Governor

File:Standard Of Governor Of California.svg
The flag of the Governor of California

The flag of the governor of California consists of the seal of California centered on a field of azure. Like most U.S. governors' flags, there are four five-point stars at the corners of the field.

See also


  1. "California State Library - History and Culture". California State Library. Retrieved 2007-12-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The Statutes of California and Amendments to the Codes passed at the Thirty-Ninth Session of the Legislature 1911, Chapter 9, p. 6
  3. "California Government Code Section 439". California State Government. State of California. Retrieved 2012-07-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Flags Over California: A History Guide" (PDF). California State Military Museum. State of California, Military Department. 2002. Retrieved 22 July 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Sergeant Mark J. Denger. "Flags of California's Naval Forces". The California Military Museum. California State Military Department. Retrieved 18 April 2011. Our state ensign, easily distinguishable, truly embodies the history of this state. The "Bear Flag," known from the annals of this state's history, dates from the days of those early California pioneers and commemorates the biggest bear known to science, the California grizzly, now extinct.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Gregory, Tom (1912). "Story of the Bear Flag - How the State Ensign Came Into Being". Journal of the Senate of the State of California. State Printing Office. 2: 327–329. Retrieved 18 April 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "California State Library - History and Culture". California State Library. Retrieved 2007-12-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. David T. Page (6 June 2011). Explorer's Guide Yosemite & the Southern Sierra Nevada: Includes Mammoth Lakes, Sequoia, Kings Canyon & Death Valley: A Great Destination (Second Edition) (Explorer's Great Destinations). Countryman Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-1-58157-880-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Monarch the Grizzly Bear". Retrieved 2010-06-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    Katherine Girlich (17 June 2009). San Francisco Zoo. Arcadia Publishing. p. 27. ISBN 978-1-4396-3807-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Laurel Braitman (10 June 2014). Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves. Simon and Schuster. pp. 85–88. ISBN 978-1-4516-2702-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "California State Flag Specifications" (PDF).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. Archive.org copy of now-offline NAVA survey results
  13. "Pantone Color Chart" (PDF). Pantone. Retrieved 2008-01-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. [1]
  15. Masters, Nathan (20 October 2011). "Where to Find California's Oldest Flag & Other Objects in SoCal's Archives". KCET. Burbank, California. Retrieved 12 June 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Ruiz, Augustine (4 June 2008). "Sacramento Post Office Invites Community to Celebrate Release of 'Flags of our Nation' California Stamp". Postal News. United States Postal Service. Retrieved 19 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "William B. Ide Abode State Historic Park" (PDF). California State Parks. State of California. 2008. Retrieved 19 July 2011. This rallied the settlers into action, and on June 14, 1846, a group of about thirty men—including Ide—marched on the town of Sonoma. The group became known as the Bear Flaggers<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "CALIFORNIA IN TIME: From the War with Mexico to Statehood" (PDF). California State Parks. State of California. 24 September 2003. Retrieved 19 July 2011. William Todd brings news of Sonoma to Capt. John Montgomery of the U.S.N. Portsmouth, who sends a reply with Lt. John Missroon.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Hill, Kathleen Thompson; Hill, Gerald N. (2005). Insiders' Guide Napa Valley: Land Of Golden Vines. Globe Pequot. p. 293. ISBN 9780762734436. Retrieved 8 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
    Brown, Gary (1996). The Great Bear Almanac. Globe Pequot. p. 209. ISBN 9781558214743. Retrieved 8 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "William Todd and the construction of the bear flag" (PDF). Sonoma State Historic Park. Retrieved 2007-06-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. 21.0 21.1 Denger, Mark J. "The Acquistion [sic] of California". The California Military Museum. California Military Department. Retrieved 19 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. 22.0 22.1 "California Bear Flag: Symbol of Strength" (PDF). Department of Fish and Game. State of California. Retrieved 15 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. George Henry Tinkham, California men and events: time 1769-1890, 2nd, revised ed., Record Publishing Company, 1915. pp.194-195
  24. Tinkham, George H. California men and events;time 1769-1890 (Revised 2d edition. ed.). Stockton, Cal.,.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "The Biderman Flag". www.militarymuseum.org. Retrieved 2016-04-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Smilie, Robert A. (1975). The Sonoma Mission, San Francisco Solano de Sonoma: The Founding, Ruin and Restoration of California's 21st Mission. Valley Publishers, Fresno, CA. ISBN 0-913548-24-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • California. Legislature. Senate (1912). Journal of the Senate of the State of California, Volume 2. State Printing Office. p. 327.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links