History Thursday: How did Ohio get its unique flag shape?

The Ohio Burgee. Photo from Flickr.

There’s no doubt about it: Ohio is a unique place. It’s a place where the city of Upper Sandusky is south of the city of Sandusky, and where people gobble up cheese and chili atop a plate of spaghetti.

It only makes sense that the Buckeye State, home to such luminaries as Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers, would have an inventive state flag. Indeed, the “Ohio Burgee” as it is known is different from all other 49 states’ flags. Ours is the only to deviate away from the standard rectangle shape. It is so unique, in fact, many wonder how we got such an odd looking flag to begin with.

Ohio became a state in 1803, and went the whole rest of the 19th Century without an official flag. 

That changed in 1901, when Buffalo, New York played host to the World’s Fair that year in a monthslong event called the “Pan-American Exposition.”

Each state got to have its own building on the expo grounds. Ohio architect John Eisenmann was tasked with designing our state’s building. A decade earlier, he was the architect who designed the celebrated Cleveland Arcade, a historic structure which still stands today.

Eisenmann tried his hand at designing a flag as well. It flew for the first time at that 1901 fair. On July 18, 1901, “Ohio Day” was celebrated at the exposition.

The original design for the Ohio Burgee.

The Washington D.C. Evening Star covered the festivities in a story headlined, “Buckeyes Take Buffalo.” Gov. George Nash was in attendance, as was Daniel J. Ryan, the Ohio commissioner at the fair; U.S. Sen. Mark Hanna of Cleveland; and William Buchanan, an Ohio native who served as director general of the whole exposition.

The Ohio Day ceremony was held in the Temple of Music. Just two months later, President William McKinley (another Ohioan) was shot inside that same building and shortly after died. 

The following year, Eisenmann’s design was formally adopted as the official flag of Ohio. There is now even an official state pledge to the flag, and an official way to have it folded.

So the next time you see the Ohio Burgee flown, take pride in knowing it’s the only one of its kind.

Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.