New Mexico History Museum

History Museum celebrates the Centennial with 47 Stars exhibit

October 11, 2011


The United States Flag Act of 1818 set forth a rule that no new stars could be added to Old Glory until the Fourth of July immediately following a state’s admission to the union. Thanks to that once-a-year-and-only-once-a-year mandate, New Mexicans hoping to share their pride at becoming the 47th state were essentially forced into committing their first illegal acts as U.S. citizens.

From January 6 through November 25, 2012, the New Mexico History Museum commemorates that dip into the dark side with 47 Stars, an exhibit of the officially unofficial 47-star flag. 47 Stars joins a collection of long-term exhibits, a year of Centennial topics in the ongoing Brainpower & Brownbags Lecture Series, and a tongue-in-cheek front-window installation that lets you step into a historic photo, all to help celebrate the state’s Centennial.

Upon achieving statehood, patriotic residents hoping for a flag of their own found themselves in a bit of a bind: Just 39 days after New Mexico became a state on January 6, 1912, Arizona stepped up to the statehood plate, joining the Union on February 14, 1912. By virtue of coming in second, Arizona would receive its just due on July 4, when the official flag of the United States was to switch from 46 to 48 stars.

But New Mexicans wanted a flag of their own – one that would flutter from the flagpoles of official buildings and showcase 47 stars, not 46 and certainly not 48. Eager U.S. flag manufacturers were only too happy to help. Thus was born the unofficial 47-star flag.

“Conservation concerns have kept us from bringing our 47-star flags out of collections for public view,” said Dr. Frances Levine, director of the History Museum. “But the Centennial was too good of an opportunity to pass up. By letting visitors see these artifacts in specially designed display cases, we hope they’ll become engaged in the amazing story of New Mexico’s struggle for statehood.”

The flag’s installation will nestle within the museum’s core exhibition, Telling New Mexico: Stories from Then and Now in the lower-level statehood section. The Photo Archives at the Palace of the Governors/New Mexico History Museum will also reproduce a 1912 photo by Jesse Nusbaum showing a 47-star flag waving from what was then the state Capitol (now the Bataan Memorial Building).

In addition, the museum’s Ventana Gallery in the front window will be festooned with bunting and the image of parade car celebrating statehood. The car will be presented as a cutout that visitors can pose behind to take Centennial souvenir photos. Visitors can also receive a miniature 47-star flag keepsake (while supplies last!).

For details on speakers, topics and dates of the free Brainpower & Brownbags Lecture Series, click here.

Telling New Mexico’s long-term section on the struggle for statehood includes:

·         Audio re-enactments of arguments for and against New Mexico’s entry into the Union, produced by aural historian Jack Loeffler.

·         A photo of the 1910 Constitutional Convention.

·         President Taft’s proclamation of statehood and the pen he used to sign it.

·         The top hat worn by William McDonald to his inauguration as New Mexico’s first governor.

In the 66 years arfter becoming a U.S. Territory, New Mexicans working toward statehood encountered ridicule and prejudice against the state’s majority Hispanic and Native American populations.  Add to that mix a reputation for political corruption and Wild West-style violence – along with the machinations of Washington politics – and it took a multi-generational struggle to join the Union.  On Jan. 14, 1912, Democrat William McDonald was sworn in. The following day, his inaugural speech proclaimed:

Now, we, the free, independent citizens of New Mexico, have at last come victorious from the battle, waged for full citizenship in a sovereign state, in that union established by their wisdom. As we look into the future, bright hopes of promise appear to some, and dark forebodings may dim the horizon of others. The past is history; the present is the dawn of the future. It is to the future we look and that future will be what we make it.

Phone number for publication: 505-476-5200.

Download high-resolution versions of Centennial-themed images by clicking on "Go to Related Media" at the top left of this page.

Related Photos

Palace of the Governors, 1912
Parade Float
State Capitol, 1912
President Taft after the statehood signing
47-Star Flag

Back to Press Release List »