384. State Flag Revisions: Idaho
Dec 16, 2012 at 04:21PM

My favorite story about Idaho goes all the way back to its territory days and beyond. A prominent lobbyist for the mining industry, George Willing, named the area after a Native American phrase that meant: Gem of the Mountains, E Dah Hoe. That name stuck long enough for two successful gold mines to be similarly named (The Idaho Mines,) as well as as steamship. Soon, it was the name of the official territory signed to the U.S. in1863 by then President Lincoln. The only problem was that Idaho was actually a made up word. It didn't exist in any Native American tongue, but by the time the US Senate found out, it had already taken hold. Let's all doff our caps to Mr. Willing for his marketing prowess. I bet he was a heck of a lobbyist.

Idaho's history—like many states—is fraught with battles that pushed out (and fenced in) native tribes. This was done in order to secure settlers' safety which was required before any territory became a state. The flag's history starts with the official Idaho Territory Seal found below. This seal was used between 1866-1869, and was designed by Silas D. Cochran. Fun little fact, the Idaho territory at one point contained all of present day Idaho, Montana and about 95% of Wyoming. (See below.)

Idaho Territory Seal of 1863-1866:

Early Idaho Territory Map:

Apparently this seal was rather controversial and not liked much by Governor Caleb Lyon. So what did he do? He redesigned it himself. "Everyone is a designer these days," mumbled professional designers everywhere. The biggest difference is the deletion of the eagle for the elk. It should be noted that his design was also redesigned several times due to widespread dissatisfaction with it in government circles. Flags and seal history is also fraught with clients who play designer with pretty bad results, but ole' Caleb's design isn't half-bad as far as these things go.

Idaho Territory Seal of 1866-1890:


With statehood came the need for an official seal. The newest state set up a committee which offered the public a handsome sum of $100 for the best design. Entries came from all over the nation, but it was the submission by an E. E. Green that ended up winning the contest. His design featured two figures, one a woman sybolizing justice and a man symbolizing the main industry at the time, mining. The rest of the seal is busy with all sorts of agricultural and natural elements wrapped up in a circle featuring the words, The Great Seal of the State of Idaho. Once the design was selected it was discovered that the winning artist was a woman, Emma Edwards Green, a local artist and art instructor who used only her initials when sending her design, in order to prevent the male-only legislature from unfairly rejecting her work. Smart. It was approved by the state legislature on March 5, 1891. It is the only state seal designed by a woman. The only original we can find is this small painting below.

Idaho State Seal 1891 - Emma Edwards Green:

The state wouldn't have an official flag design for another 16 years, and when it was adopted they simply took an infantry flag (just the seal on a field of blue), added a State of Idaho scoll to the bottom and then called it a day. This flag design originated in 1907 and was adopted in 1927. So, Idaho is one of many states whose flags features a state seal on a blue field. One of too many.

Fast forward fifty years later and someone in the state legislature decided that the state seal needed to be updated to better reflect Idaho's industries and natural beauty. Here's the real travesty, they didn't hire a female artist to do it, they hired a guy named Paul B. Evans. It's not that Evans did a bad job, it's just that it would have been more respectful the original to keep the state seal the only one truly designed by a woman. His painting is below for which he was paid $1,000.

Idaho Revised Seal of 1957:
The Current Idaho State Flag:

The current state flag, like the other states that feature seals, don't usually come with the painting but a rather poor representation of the seal, which makes the resulting designs even uglier. There may be no better example of this than Idaho. Sometimes the flag has a gold fringe on three sides per the earlier 1907 standard. From what I can tell, the flag is always supposed to have a 2.5" gold fringe on three of its sides, but that is often left off on the flags you can buy. Again, state flag standards run loose with the details. No official blue is selected, there is no official gold color chosen, no official rendered seal (lots of variation here), and no official block lettering. (This still blows my mind.) There are even disputes over the dimensions, though the official law states a fly (width) of 66 inches and a hoist (height) of 52 inches, 33:26. On our project we don't allow fringe, and don't allow weird shapes, as consistency across states is key, the other elements shoud be decided upon. Are you listening Idaho legislature? 
The Idaho Flag Most Often Seen:
So that pretty much takes us up to modern day. Not a lot to work with in terms of story. And Idaho despite its natural beauty doesn't really have a strong identifiable personality or a set of symbols we could start with. Guaranteed, if you ask someone about Idaho, you'll hear something about a certain spud. Outside of that most people would draw a blank. I doubt many could conjur up its capital city name. (Boise.)

And we all know the best marketing related to Idaho:

Of course Idaho sits right next to Oregon and was an important (and dangerous) part of the Oregon trail, but it's hard to design an Idaho flag around something named after another state. I did a little research and found a lot of info about Fort Boise and was hoping it might lead to something interesting, but it did not, outside of the fact that it was actually three forts, each replacing the one before it. One cool fact that I stumbled on was that Idaho was the last of the 50 states explored by people of European descent. Not helpful for my purposes, but cool nonetheless. Gold played a huge role in the state's settlement, with several major finds throughout the 1800's. (One could easily design around this, except it doesn't exactly scream Idaho.)

Fort Boise / Hudson's Bay Company Marker:
One thing I discovered that was truly a surprise to me, is the number of fact surrounding rivers within the state. Consider this:
  1. Idaho's Salmon River is the longest free-flowing river that heads and flows within a single state.
  2. Idaho is the number one producer of Trout (and yes, Potatoes.)
  3. Shoshone Falls (212 feet) drops 52 feet further than Niagara Falls. AND
  4. Idaho has 3,100 miles of rivers - more than any other state.
So, I'm thinking if Minnesota can build a brand around their lakes, then surely Idaho can do the same with their rivers. That focus alone would touch on tourism, agriculture, energy, and conservation all at once. The trick now is to design around the rivers, which isn't an easy element to capture graphically. The cool thing is that the river has always been a prominent element in the state seal (and therfore flag) throughout Idaho's history. The other element that has always been an anchor in past designs is that of the Elk. Basically, my design is an attempt to combine the rivers and the elk, in a color palette that works for the state, something connected to the earth. Antlers as endless rivers. I think this will work well.

The New Idaho State Flag:

Article originally appeared on Graphicology (http://www.graphicology.com/).
See website for complete article licensing information.