The Evolution of Nevada’s Flag
BY CORY MUNSON
Nothing sparks pride in where you reside quite like a flag. However, creating a banner to represent an entire culture or geographic region isn’t easy work. Nevada’s flag is beloved by residents today, but it took four (almost five) versions until the matter was settled.
Nevada’s first state flag was designed by then-Governor John Sparks and his associate Colonel Henry Day. Although it may seem odd that the flag arrived 40 years after statehood, most states did not actually adopt their own flags until the early 20th century.
The 36 stars and dark blue background represent Nevada as the 36th state to join the Union. The words “silver” and “gold” are prominently displayed as a nod to the state’s mining industry. Only one of these flags is still known to exist, which can be found at the Nevada Historical Society.
Clara Crisler—an educator and historian from Carson City—led the charge in redesigning the seldom-used 1905 flag. Her version was a major departure from the original flag. Its eye-like configuration positioned the state motto below the state seal, which includes depictions of a train, mountains, a miner with ore, a plow, a telegraph line, and a quartz mill.
The Crisler flag did not see widespread production, and by the 1920s there were calls for it to be replaced. Critics pointed out that many state flags featured a seal, making Nevada’s not very distinct. The flag was also expensive and hard to produce: the highly detailed image needed to be visible on both sides of the flag and required 40 hand-stitched colors.
In 1926, a contest was held for a new flag design with a $25 prize for the winner (see below). From more than 100 submissions, the legislature chose this now-familiar format created by Louis Shellback—a career state employee and part-time archeologist. Shellback’s flag added the cherished sagebrush wreath—the state flower—and yellow banner memorializing the state’s admission during the Civil War.
This design was proposed as a replacement to the 1929 flag, which many complained was still too expensive to produce and was rarely flown. Although this version passed unanimously in the legislature, it was vetoed by the governor, who claimed the flag lacked dignity.
When the bill for the 1929 flag was approved, a clerical error resulted in the wrong design with confusing lettering around the star being submitted. For more than 50 years, the state flew a flag that no one had voted for. In 1991, the legislature finally fixed the error by placing the state’s name below the star.
These entries were also considered in the 1926 contest. All images below are held and owned by © Nevada State Archives.
Our appreciation to the Nevada Historical Society, the Nevada State Archives, and the Nevada State Museum, Carson City for providing the images in this article.