Five Years Without An Arizona State Flag

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January 28th, 1917 Tombstone Epitaph headline announcing legislative concern over the proposed state flag design. This design that “looked too much like the Japanese emblem” was adopted as Arizona’s official state flag the following month.

A full five years passed between Arizona’s admission to the Union and its adoption of an official state flag. A variety of factors – legislative bickering among them – led to a half-decade elapsing before the “Baby State” had a standard of its own. While the design approved by state legislators in 1917 is well-regarded today, as evidenced by the North American Vexillological Association honoring it as one of the best flags in North America, it initially faced serious opposition.

A flag very similar to that flown today was first put into service by the Arizona Rifle Team during a 1911 match at Camp Perry, OH. A variation of this same design, although not then the official state flag, was displayed at the 1915 dedication of the U.S.S. Arizona. Despite these and other instances in which the Rifle Team flag or a version thereof served, albeit unofficially, as Arizona’s colors, state legislators remained hesitant to formalize the design. A January 1917 bill proposing adoption of the de facto flag as the state’s official flag met resistance from solons and citizens alike. Los Angeles Times articles documented concern that the rays and copper star featured on the flag under discussion bore a “similitude to the Japanese ensign,” and mentioned talk of including a “Gila monster couchant, within a copper collar” on the flag. A proposal to shift the line dividing the rays from the field of blue below from a horizontal to a diagonal orientation languished due after being unfavorably compared to “an astrological chart.”

In the end, legislators passed a bill adopting a design bearing “the copper star of Arizona rising from a blue field in the face of a setting sun” as the state’s official flag. Though Governor Thomas Campbell declined to sign the bill because, as speculated by the Arizona Republican newspaper, “the flag did not measure up to his ideals of what a state emblem should be,” the bill became law after five days of gubernatorial inaction. Campbell was ousted from office in December of 1917 following a court decision declaring George W.P. Hunt the victor of the contentious 1916 race (Campbell would return to the governorship in 1919). However, the Arizona state flag made official by his inaction flies over the capitol building in which he served to this day.

The U.S.S. Arizona Silver Set

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A photo of the June 19th, 1915 U.S.S. Arizona launch ceremony. In addition to being christened with champagne, as is tradition, the ship launch ceremony also featured a bottle filled with water that had passed over the top of Roosevelt Dam, a structure that was then the pride of the state.

Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett and other dignitaries dedicated Arizona’s newest memorial, the World War II Memorial at Wesley Bolin Plaza, earlier today. The monument features a fourteen-inch gun from the U.S.S. Arizona, which was sunk in a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor seventy-two years ago today. The Arizona is the iconic symbol of the December 7th, 1941 attack, as represented in photos and newsreels of the period and by the solemn 1962 memorial that sits above the ship’s sunken hull today. The gun now incorporated into the new memorial standing on the plaza across from the state capitol is available for display only because it had been removed for relining prior to the “date which will live in infamy,” thus saving it from destruction. The ship’s silver service is another item on display today due to its being removed from the vessel prior to that tragic Sunday in December of 1941.

The silver set was gifted to the ship by the people of Arizona, the youngest state in the Union at the time of the battleship’s June 19th, 1915 christening. Manufactured by Reed & Barton of Taunton, Massachusetts, the elegant eighty-seven piece set featured depictions of saguaros, Gila monsters, and a Grand Canyon scene alongside more traditional nautical imagery such as mermaids, shells, and Neptune. Unique among Navy silver sets, several pieces of the U.S.S. Arizona silver collection were plated with copper in tribute of the metal’s importance to the state economy.

Taken off the ship in January of 1941 as part of an effort to prepare for the likelihood of war, the silver service waited out the conflict in a Bremerton, Washington storage facility. After a relatively short period aboard the U.S.S. Tucson, the silver sat unused until Arizona Governor Howard Pyle lobbied the Navy to return the priceless set to the Grand Canyon State. The United States Navy granted Pyle’s request in 1953, returning the silver set bearing a seemingly incongruous mix of Sonoran Desert and nautical imagery to Arizona, where it can now be viewed at the Arizona State Capitol Museum. To view a collection of photos documenting the silver service, please visit