Category: stars

Wallace Rice on Chicago Stars

From a 1928 letter by Wallace Rice to a Mr. Ettleson:

To return to the six-pointed stars in the Chicago municipal flag. By the terms of the competition under the rules laid down by the Chicago Flag Commission in 1917, the use of religious symbols, which included the cross, the star and crescent, and the two triangles, one reversed and superimposed, was barred, for obvious reasons. [1] The five-pointed star, symbol of a soverign State, was also considered out of place, for reasons which I hope have been made equally obvious here. Chicago is a city.

After more than four hundred designs had been made by me, I finally struck upon such a six-pointed star as had never appeared in any flag before, peculiarly and singularly a Chicago star, made by a Chicagoan for his greatly loved city, by an American in the tenth generation in this country, whose ancestors had fought against Great Britain, for the most American of American cities. It differs from all other stars in use in European heraldry and in State and National flags and coats-of-arms, and is specifically for and of Chicago and nowhere else on earth because its points are straight and not like the usual heraldric etioile curved like flames, and because these points subtend an angle of only thirty degrees, instead of the sixty degrees subtended in the star made by superimposing a triangle.

  1. According my copy of the rules, on file at the Chicago Public Library’s municipal reference collection, no rule specifically bars religious imagery.

Offer Design For City Flag; What It Means

[from the Chicago Daily Tribune, March 29th, 1917, p.13]


Design for a Chicago Flag, to be emblematic of a robust municipal ideal, was submitted to the city council yesterday by the Chicago municipal flag commission, appointed by Mayor Thompson eighteen months ago. The commission describes the flag thus:

“Its uppermost stripe, of white, is eight inches broad; the second stripe, of blue, is nine inches; the central bar, of white, is eighteen inches, and the two lower stripes correspond with the uppermost two. Near the staff on the broad white stripe are two six pointed red stars, fourteen inches tall.”

“Viewed locally, the two blue stripes symbolize the Chicago river with its two branches and the three white bars represent the three sides of the city. The red stars stand for the Chicago fire and the World’s fair, two great influences on the city’s history. The six points in the first star stand for transportation, trade, finance, industry, populousness, and healthfulness; those in the second for religion, education, aesthetics, beneficence, justice and civism [sic].”

“Considered nationally, the blue stripes stand for the mountain ranges which flank the plain of which Chicago is the center. The central white bar stands for this plain and the two outer white bars for the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.”

The flag was designed by Wallace Rice, 2701 Best avenue.

continuing obsessive coverage of chicago stars

The journal of the Great Waters Association of Vexillology (the study of flags is called Vexillology) reports on the original proceedings of the 1917 Chicago City Council that adopted the flag design, which at that time, only had two stars. Here’s an image of the original flag as pictured in the Chicago Herald and Examiner in 1921, courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society. I’ll quote the relevant portion of Wallace Rice’s description here:

Next (to) the hoist and two inches from it at the nearest point is a red star fourteen inches tall with six points drawn from a circle six inches in diameter. Two inches from this is a second star of the same size. […] The two stars stand for the two great formative events in Chicago history, the Great Fire of 1871 and the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. They are given six points each that they may not be confused with the five-pointed stars which stand for the States of the Union in the American Flag.

The bold passage (emphasis mine, obviously) gives us numbers, slightly different from the numbers I calculated in my previous post, “what is the deal with the stars on the chicago flag?”. There, I got:

The outer radius (the circumradius) is 2.4 times the length of the inner radius (which, in Adobe parlance, is the circle which intersects the points of concavity, not the incircle of the hexagon).

The 1917 numbers give an outer radius 2.33 times the inner radius. Let’s compare these stars:

These stars are very, very similar, but more importantly, they’re both pointy. I was going to post a very long entry with all the trigonmetry necessary to show the exact percentage difference in area, but I think I’ll spare you, this time. The key here is that the star was designed to be sharp from the very start, and distinct from the regular hexagram.

Which of the two is most correct? It’s hard to say. I’m pretty sure that Rice’s 1917 14:6 number is just rounding error. He probably just didn’t want to write 14.4 inches. Since the difference is so very small, let’s call them both within the margin of error.

However, the stars on the very same page in the GWAV’s journal are wrong wrong wrong. Those are clearly regular hexagrams in the illustration, 1.73:1 six-pointed stars. I’m going to have to send them a letter.

another way to make chicago stars

Building on previous work:

a basic pentagram
A regular pentagram

pentagrams have golden triangles for points
has golden triangles for points.

pentagrams have five points
There are five of them,
when you strip off the points
and if you peel them back,

and wrap it around a hexagon
and wrap them around a regular hexagon,
it starts to look..
and add one more point,

like a chicago star
you end up with a Chicago star.

what is the deal with the stars on the chicago flag?

The flag of the city of Chicago is rich in history and symbolism. In fact, the municipal code specifies, in some detail, the design and meaning of each of the flag’s elements. However, the code also leaves much to interpretation, especially the shape and placement of the stars.

There shall be four bright red stars with sharp points, six in number, set side by side, close together, next to the staff in the middle third of the surface of the flag.

So we’ve got four stars with six sharp points, close together. Here are a few interpretations of this instruction from around the web.

a slightly pointy star of david somewhat pointer, but still looking pretty regular probably the same star as above just a plain old hexagram

The first is from a patch the Chicago Fire sell. Next we have the stars from the Chicago Public Library information on the flag page. Then the stars from Wikipedia’s Chicago Flag entry. Finally, the stars from an eBay auction of an “authentic” Chicago Police flag patch.

All of the above representations are very nearly perfect hexagrams . The star polygon {6/2} is made from six points, equally spaced upon a circle, connected via straight lines. It’s also known as the “Star of David”, and you may recognize it as the preeminent symbol of Judaism. Would the points of the hexagram be characterized as “sharp?” Not compared to the pentagram, which you may recognize as the “normal” five-pointed star.

The pentagram has a “pointy” angle of 36 degrees (more about this angle later), but the hexagram is somewhat dull, with only a 60 degree point. Fortunately, most actual Chicago flags feature a, um, pointier star.

very nicely pointy perfect, in my estimation

The first is from an actual photograph of an actual flag , flying in front of a downtown church. The other is from eBay auctions of real flags.

These stars are considerably sharper or “pointier” than the regular Star of David. To my eye, they look much more “Chicago” than the more regular 6-pointed stars. How much pointier should the stars be? Well, I’ve come up with a system by which we can derive the proper shape of the Chicago flag’s star, and I’ll suggest it as the future standard by which all Chicago flag stars should be constructed.

First, consider the pentagram. We can all agree that its points are “sharp” and its proportions are pleasing. Interestingly, its points are golden triangles, well known to be pleasing to the eye. Let us construct a six-pointed star according to the same pleasing principles.

First, construct a regular hexagram:
a hexagram inscribed in a circle

Using the hexagon produced inside, plan a golden triangle as the point.
an isoceles triangle with a 36 degree point

Multiply this triangle for each face of the hexagon and fill with red.
a proper chicago star

Here we have what I think are the proper proportions for the Chicago star. It is certainly distinct from the Star of David, but is also founded upon geometrical principles and resembles in proportion (golden proportion!) the five-pointed stars we know so well.

I’ve also helpfully calculated the ratio between the inner and outer radii. The outer radius (the circumradius) is 2.4 times the length of the inner radius (which, in Adobe parlance, is the circle which intersects the points of concavity, not the incircle of the hexagon). I won’t show my work here, but let me tell you, it was a pretty good review of sophomore year trig to get this number. Now that I’ve done all the work, you can use Adobe Illustrator to create these stars effortlessly. Here’s the relevant dialog box:
a dialog box from Adobe illustrator showing the right settings

Please feel free to call or write to your alderman about this issue. Let’s get this taken care of, Chicago!

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