In 1922 an unauthorized change made to the design on one Utah State flag altered the pattern used for over eighty years. Numerals for the year 1847, honoring the arrival of the Mormon pioneers, were moved from their original position on the shield appearing at the flag's center to a spot just below the shield. Later flags used the incorrect flag as a pattern. This admittedly small error went unnoticed for about sixty years, until I spotted the discrepancy while examining the flag's legal description contained in the state codes.
The unauthorized change appeared so small, in fact, that it has been regularly overlooked during the flag's long history. This is understandable for casual readings of the description. However, even when more careful scrutiny of wording might be expected, the change went unnoticed.
In November 1933 Utah's Attorney General Joseph Chez responded to an inquiry from the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers. They sent an illustration of the flag asking if it followed the pattern required by law. "I have examined the photograph of the flag enclosed by you, and so far as I am able to determine it meets the specifications of the law" Attorney General Chez assured the women. The article quoting the Attorney General's letter includes a color illustration of the Utah State flag showing the "1847" below the shield.
Some twenty years later the Utah State flag Committee, asked the Attorney General's office for an opinion "whether the design was in conflict with the U.S. flag code" which states "Do not place any object or emblem of any kind on or above the flag of the United States. The committee was concerned that "Utah's flag contains a draped Old Glory surmounted by a spread eagle." This time Assistant Attorney General Walter L. Budge informed the committee that "The Utah state flag is both authentic and in good taste." A newspaper account concludes that "Mr. Budge opined that the restriction [of the flag code] applies only to placing objects on or above the national emblem itself." No mention was made of misplacement of the numbers "1847."
Although I have a thick file of newspaper articles about the Utah State flag, no mention was ever made of the incorrect placement of the numerals below the shield.
After discovering the problem in the 1980s, I shared the information with state officials, historians, reporters and anyone who would listen. This disclosure was often met by a wry smile which seemed to say, "What an interesting piece of trivia."
Early last year, I shared this news with Ron Fox, who did not consider the discrepancy trivial. In respect to the history of the Utah State flag it should be described, illustrated and manufactured correctly. State Representative Julie Fisher agreed and produced a Resolution admonishing flag manufacturers to make the Utah State flag in accordance with State law and the flag's history.
Why does such a small detail matter? Makers of the Utah State flag can only produce flags based on the information they are given. They have obviously made flags based on illustrations following the 1922 flag. The wording of the description adopted in 1913 reflects the original flag and the earliest made Utah State flags. It is a matter of carefully following the Utah Code.