The Philadelphia Civic Flag:
A Beacon of Community and Heritage

The First Official City Flag in America
Established March 27, 1895

Elements and Essence of the Flag's Design

The Philadelphia Civic Flag, originally conceived and designed by Rev. Dr. Henry C. McCook(1895), stands as a vibrant emblem of community and unity. 

Featuring our city colors, azure-blue and golden-yellow, the colors symbolize the spirit and resilience of Philadelphia. In heraldry, azure-blue is derived from the color of the Heavens, and signifies the higher life / virtues of faith. Gold, represented by golden-yellow, is the metal of greatest value, is an emblem of high worth or eminent renown.

The 1895 City Council, along with the educated input of McCook, determined our city colors, based on the ancient civic colors, Blue and Metallic Gold, as recored in the 1854 & 1874 Journal of Common Council. McCook suggested the heraldic shade of blue, "deep azure and golden yellow to represent metallic gold." This was a practical decision for the flag would be too heavy and costly using metallic gold cloth in its production. The Council approved McCook’s color choices.*

McCook, being an expert in heraldry, understood the important symbolic message encoded in the 1874 Seal of Philadelphia. Central to McCook's flag design is the city’s ancient coat of arms. This 1874 Seal of Philadelphia was designed by Frank Marx Etting. Etting prominently displayed the city motto Philadelphia Maneto ("Let Brotherly Love Continue”) in his design, which encapsulates the city’s foundational values of peace, hope, justice, and prosperity.

*It is important to note that in all of the Journal of Common Council records / documents there is no mention of Sweden or the the colors of the Swedish Flag as inspiration for the adoption of the City Colors. The Swedish "color connection" exists as lore and is not the truth of the matter. [Journal of Common Council, Vol. II, October 4, 1894 to March 28, 1894]

The letter written to McCook from Mayor Edwin Stuart on the actual day the new City Colors / City Flag Ordinance was signed, March 27, 1895. This letter makes it is very clear that Henry C. McCook was “the author of the ordinance," with no mention of the Swedish Flag as a catalyst for the colors.

Explore The Coat of Arms

Symbols Representing Our City’s Values

The coat of arms on the Philadelphia Civic Flag is a visual manifesto of the city’s ideals. Each time the flag is displayed, it serves as a vivid reminder of our heritage and the values we strive to embody.

By understanding and embracing these symbols, we reinforce our commitment to the ethos that makes Philadelphia a unique and vibrant city.

The Scale of Justice represents fairness and the rule of law in Philadelphia. It underscores the city's dedication to upholding justice for all its citizens, emphasizing the importance of equality and impartiality within our legal and social systems.

The Garland of Peace symbolizes the city's commitment to harmony and tranquility. This emblem encourages the fostering of peaceful relations within the community and serves as a reminder of our collective aspiration for a serene urban environment.

The Anchor of Hope stands as a powerful and steadfast symbol. Anchors are traditionally associated with stability and security, reflecting Philadelphia's desire to provide a safe and stable environment for its residents, where they can build their lives with optimism and confidence.

The Cornucopia of Prosperity is often referred to as the horn of plenty. It reflects Philadelphia's hope for economic growth and wealth for all its inhabitants, highlighting the city's efforts to ensure a flourishing community where everyone has access to opportunities.

Beneath the coat of arms, the banner proudly displays the City Motto, Philadelphia Maneto ~ “Let Brotherly Love Continue.” This banner is a constant call to action for all Philadelphians to live in accordance with the city's founding principles of brotherly love and mutual respect.

The Ship on the shield honors the Free Society of Traders, a London-based business group instrumental in developing the colony of Pennsylvania. Symbolizing Philadelphia's enduring connections to commerce, the ship in full sail represents progress and the city's role as a pivotal port and hub of trade, reflecting its dynamic and forward-looking spirit.

The Plow represents agriculture, Pennsylvania's foundational agrarian roots, and the hardworking spirit of its settlers. Assigned by William Penn to symbolize Chester County, the plow highlights its critical role in the sustenance and growth of the early colony, symbolizing both the cultivation of the land and the state’s rich agricultural heritage.

Azure Blue

Color of the Heavens

golden yellow

Color of Precious Gold

Golden-yellow signifies the metal of greatest value and is an emblem of high worth or eminent renown.

Azure blue signifies the higher life / virtues of faith

"Philadelphia Maneto"

Delving into Our City's Name and Motto

"Philadelphia Maneto" is far more than a mere tagline; it is a profound affirmation of Philadelphia's foundational ethos. Displaying this motto on the Philadelphia Civic Flag underscores our historical roots while committing to a future where these values of love, unity, and brotherhood are actively preserved and celebrated. Each time the flag is hoisted, it serves as a pledge to maintain the spirit of brotherly love that defines our city.

The name "Philadelphia" originates from the Ancient Greek word Philadélpheia, which itself is derived from philádelphos, meaning "brother/sibling-loving," combined with -eia, a suffix used in Greek to form place names. The term philádelphos is a compound of philéein ("to love") and adelphós ("brother, sibling"), thus, the name "Philadelphia" translates directly to "brotherly love."

The city’s motto, "Philadelphia Maneto," is in Latin, where "Maneto" means "to remain" or "to continue." When combined, "Philadelphia Maneto" translates to "Let Brotherly Love Continue." This phrase not only emphasizes the continuity of brotherly love as fundamental to Philadelphia’s identity but also serves as a directive for its citizens to uphold these values perpetually.

Discover the Philadelphia Civic Flag

Join us for an enlightening presentation by Brenda Embrey Exon, affectionately known as the “Philly Pride Lady™.”

This video features her lecture at the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA) 57th annual meeting held on October 6, 2023, at the 23rd Street Armory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The First Official City Flag in the Nation

Brenda Embrey Exon shares her profound knowledge and passion for the Philadelphia Civic Flag in this engaging session, part of the George Henry Preble Lecture Series during NAVA 57. Since 1998, Brenda has been a stalwart advocate for the flag, leveraging her background as a teacher and author to promote its history and significance.

This video not only explores the rich history of the first official city flag in the nation but also delves into its impact on community pride and civic engagement in Philadelphia. Brenda’s insights provide a deep understanding of why the Philadelphia Civic Flag is more than just a symbol—it is a pivotal part of the city’s identity.

Help Keep Philadelphia's Flag Flying High!

Join us in celebrating and promoting Philadelphia's rich history and vibrant community spirit and Pride of Place. Your contributions support our educational programs, community events, and the preservation of our city's symbols.

Let's ensure that every Philadelphian feels proud of our city's flag and what it stands for!