What The American Flag Salute Once Looked Like

“The most noble fate a man can endure is to place his own mortal body between his loved home and the war’s desolation.” —Robert A. Heinlein, Starship Troopers

In A Nutshell

It was called the Bellamy Salute, after the Socialist Baptist minister who wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. Originally, there was no right and wrong way to salute the American flag while reciting the declaration of loyalty every schoolchild knows by heart. When Congress met after World War I to standardize the salute that would be performed before the flag, they settled on one in which the pledge would be started by the person with their hand on their heart, and halfway through they would extend their arm, palm up, in a gesture of respect. Until, that is, Hitler decided to use almost the exact same thing.

The Whole Bushel

Take a look at some old photos from the 1920s and 1930s like the one above. You’ll see typical schoolchildren reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. But you’ll also probably need to look twice, because to us, they’re making a gesture that can’t possibly be right. Can it?

It is, only they’re doing something called the Bellamy Salute. Named after the man who penned the Pledge of Allegiance, the gesture is eerily reminiscent of one that would be made infamous in an entirely different context during the 1940s when the Third Reich swept through Europe. And in fact, that’s why we just stick with putting our hand over our heart today.

Every school-age child in America knows the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s recited every morning when students stand and place their right hands over their hearts in a solemn gesture of respect.

It wasn’t always like that, though. The pledge has undergone several transformations, keeping the same basic idea but changing the wording. (Oddly, the words that today are so controversial—“under God”—didn’t appear in the pledge until they were added in 1954.) And so has the salute.

The pledge was written in 1892 and first appeared in the September 8th issue of a magazine called Youth’s Companion. It was a huge success. Along with the words, most people stood and saluted the flag as well, some with a military salute, some with their hand on their heart, some with a version in between. On the heels of World War I, it was decided that the salute needed to be standardized. So they went with a version they called the Bellamy Salute. It should look a little familiar.

Along with the text of the pledge, Youth’s Companion also published instructions on how the flag was supposed to be saluted, and it was this that was made standard practice. Following cues from a teacher or other authority figure, everyone was to stand and turn toward the flag. The start of the pledge was recited with hand over heart. At the mention of the flag, though, the right arm was extended straight out, hand in the air, palm upwards.

Indeed. The only difference between the Bellamy Salute and that one that countless Third Reich soldiers would give Hitler is that their hands would be palm down.

(There were different pledge guidelines for adults, who were merely instructed to stand at the reciting of the pledge. Military personnel were always encouraged to give the standard military salute.)

Not surprisingly, the similarities between the salutes made many Americans uncomfortable by the time World War II was in full force. So much so that FDR changed the salute to skip the whole “extended arm salute” part and Americans just kept their hand on their heart from then on. That wasn’t without a fight, though. The Daughters of the American Revolution and the United States Flag Association both petitioned the government to keep the original, extended arm salute, even as the war progressed. It wasn’t actually changed until December 1942, although protests over the similarities between the American and German salutes began as early as 1935.

Show Me The Proof

Featured image via New York Tribune
US History: The Pledge of Allegiance
Flag Salute History
HuffingtonPost: Bob Greene Ignores the Socialist Origins of the Pledge of Allegiance

  • inconspicuous detective

    ah nationalism. the new necessary evil.

  • CMatthew

    Seig Merica’!

  • N Mulgrave

    Hitler ruined lot’s of things for everyone. The Bellamy salute, Hindu Swastikas, The name Adolf, toothbrush mustaches, organic soap… the list goes on and on…Bastard!

    • inconspicuous detective

      yea, but the ability of the shower to persevere cannot be overstated.

    • percynjpn

      Buddhists also use the swastika (and have since ancient times), and even today in Japan and other Asian countries it is the symbol used on maps and road signs to indicate the location of Buddhist temples.

    • Illuminati Recruitment Agency

      You forgot to include crystal meth in that list of things Hitler ruined.

      • Lisa 39

        Was hitler a meth head?

  • g.g.palin

    Maybe I’ve been watching Dr. Strangelove to much because all I could think of while reading this is “mein fuhrer i can walk.”

  • Dunno, watching children pledge allegiance to a flag gives me the creeps … I’m glad we don’t have that in our schools.

    • Spartachilles

      It is very annoying. And technically you don’t have to do it, but everyone is too scared to apparently.

      • g.g.palin

        to say everyone is a bit of an exaggeration when I was in school I stopped standing for the pledge when i was 12. The worst thing that happened was that a teacher “tried” to send me out. to which I responded a”is that a joke?”

        • Spartachilles

          Well, most people I know in my school do the pledge. But everyone was a bit exaggerated.

          • g.g.palin

            Yeah I know how that goes.

    • percynjpn

      Why does it give you the creeps?

      • Maybe it’s because I’m from a smaller, European country adjacent to Germany, but little children salute the flag and reciting patriotic mantra’s, makes me feel like I’m watching Fascist-training. Do these children have any idea of the world, about humanity, what’s outside their own country, do they understand what they are pledging and why?

        • g.g.palin

          I never understood fanatical patriotism. How is a child suppose to have an opinion about how great their country is when most never lived outside of that country?

        • inconspicuous detective

          maybe if you guys did more pledging and had a bit more pride, you would not have been so easily subjugated. i guess it would be easy to say everyone caved in but there’s that little nation of bulgaria who hardly killed any jews by comparison and was able to resist passively.

          • We know about our past, and know about what we did wrong and how we could have perhaps saved / protected a lot more lives. In an environment where flags are saluted and national pride is spoonfed to school children, a nations embarrassing, inappropriate, disappointing episodes tend to get swept under the thick rug of glory boosting self-admiration. It’s great to hear about Bulgaria’s success in withstanding nazi ideology and policies. Now if Bulgaria could also manage to withstand present day racism, homophobia and misogyny … 🙂

          • inconspicuous detective

            hey i’m just pointing out that a sense of nationalism isn’t a bad thing. like the religion list today, it’s a tool that can either be used to a positive or negative end.

          • True, I won’t argue with that. In some countries, waving the flag around has a more negative connotation. In the Netherlands, it’s associated with neo-nazi’s/fascism more than anything. I think that’s why we dress up in orange when there’s something to celebrate nationwide.

          • inconspicuous detective

            how long has that been a thing?

          • My best guess would be since 1945. Flags are not forbidden or anything, but instead of the national flag, many people wave orange coloured banners, don orange wigs and stuff, or they’ll hoist a regional flag. We do have flag protocol: you shouldn’t display the flag after sundown, the flag mustn’t touch the ground and such. Symbolically burning one is probably frowned upon. Especially when you burn it at night, on the ground.

          • inconspicuous detective

            well, my guess is it has to do with william of orange, which is pretty stupid i guess but whatever.

            EDIT: not stupid as in practice, but rather a stupid guess.

          • Not at all. William of Orange (Orange being a region in France) is an ancestor of our royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. I thought you meant when did we start feeling awkward about our flag haha

          • treky chick

            It’s funny, America used to have the whole you-cant-burn-the-flag thing, than our Supreme Court said sure you can, it’s free speech

          • lbatfish

            I grew up saying the pledge, and at the time, it never seemed like anything more than an activity that we performed on demand. Patriotism that shallow would be a rather feeble bulwark against disloyalty, I’d think, with discussions on the ideals of our nation and what it means to be good citizens being considerably more effective.

          • inconspicuous detective

            it’s part of a bigger picture though, i mean it’s not just the pledge we’re doing but it’s the subject of the article.

          • lbatfish

            I probably agree with you on the importance of the “big picture”.

            But my point is that saying the pledge is only a very tiny part of that bigger picture, and that its omission would have little impact. A return to the “traditional values” of the first half of our country’s history, as it were.

          • inconspicuous detective

            i’m not so sure. we’ve always been very nationalistic in who we are, and how we do things.

          • Nathaniel A.

            Very good point, mindlessly repeating ideals every morning does not necessarily equate to acting with patriotic fervor when the time comes to defend those ideals.

          • lbatfish

            Suggesting that a failure to repeat a mandatory litany of words had any impact on the Nazi onslaught seems a bit simplistic to me.

          • inconspicuous detective


          • lbatfish

            I was responding to: “maybe if you guys did more pledging and had a bit more pride, you would not have been so easily subjugated.”

          • inconspicuous detective

            i see. by now though you should know how i approach each and every country with a level of sarcastic contempt for their past and present actions, and that rather than implying simply “pledging” would change anything, a stronger sense of national pride could have provided a more rigid backbone (back to the big picture we mentioned above) and may have resulted in some lives sparred.

          • lbatfish

            I’d thought that the Netherlands’ track record of behavior under the Nazis (regarding the local Jews and other targets) compared favorably to many other European countries. Though I admittedly don’t know very much about the topic.

            Or were you saying that stronger Dutch military resistance would have saved lives?

          • inconspicuous detective

            dutch resistance in general. i’d have to check myself but i believe that the dutch were so so in how well they did. not great but not nearly what they could have done, kinda like the swiss.

    • Akarasakii

      Honestly, I still question why we were “punished” cause our hand gesture’s weren’t “right”, and that we were somehow making fun of it. There was one teacher who looked at us as if we were gonna incite an uprising against the country or something. It’s just a piece of cloth.

    • Rufus T. Firefly

      Living in a country where people are now considered “evil” if they are patriotic gives me the creeps. If people do not want to participate in the pledge, that is their right, but to deny others their right to recite the pledge because someone might get their feelings hurt is ridiculous. The socialist federal court in California recently ruled that students could not wear an American flag on their shirt because the Hispanic students would be offended. Guess what, you don’t have a right not to be offended. I am offended every time someone runs down my country.

  • edzyl blane

    Whose the Nazi now? mwahahaha

  • percynjpn

    The Nazis copied it (like almost everything related to their ceremonies, banners, etc.) from the Romans. Therefore, what?

  • Andy West

    Nowadays it seems to be a middle finger salute.

  • oouchan

    Heard of this before about 3 years ago. There was an article that showed the fanatical way the US regards their flag…and how very similar it was to Nazi Germany. The salute, the devotion, the ballistic way people behave when it’s disrespected….creepy. Since then, I watch how people act when it comes time for our national anthem or how children recite the pledge. It’s weird and now foreign to me. I no longer do this when I’m at a sports event or a school function. My child doesn’t recite the pledge either (her choice!) at school. After she had learned of the change in the 1950’s, she refused to say the new one. Again..her choice and I support her in that. Glad we do live in a country where one can choose to say or not say the pledge without getting killed….thinking of a certain Korean dictator here.


  • Scott

    It’s such a cooler gesture than putting your hand on your heart. It’s stupid that just because the Nazi’s used it nobody can ever extend their arm in such a way again without everybody freaking the fuck out and labeling them a racist. Personally I think we should go back to doing that for the pledge. Hitler has been dead long enough to where the world really needs to shut up and move on.

    Not that I’m going to be starting a petition any time soon. In the end, it doesn’t matter anyway.

    • lbatfish

      Or . . . maybe we should go even further back, and not do the pledge at all?

      • Scott

        No, the pledge is fine. If you’re going to live in this country you should be loyal to it. Now, that does not mean loyalty to our asshole government.

        • lbatfish

          Repeating the pledge has little to do with loyalty, either to the government, or to the people who elect the people that control the government.

          I’m not saying that the pledge is a bad thing — just that when it’s mandated (in school, or by social custom), it becomes a rather meaningless activity, the verbal equivalent of politicians needing to wear flag pins whenever they campaign. What should matter is what people DO for our country, and not what they recite or what they wear.

          • Scott

            It’s one of those things that the meaning has been eroded by the number of non-Americans we have living here now. I live in one of the most “diverse” areas in the country, and it’s pretty sickening at how blatantly anti-American so many people are. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think that a minor display of allegiance isn’t so much to ask for. But that’s probably due to what I’ve seen growing up in the SF bay area. For example, in high school there were a group of Afghani assholes that would take out the Afghan flag and loudly recite some pledge they made up themselves while the Pledge of Allegiance was being said. Stuff like that pisses me off more than you can imagine. The constant disrespect demonstrated by immigrants around here has made me more zealous than most.

          • Lisa 39

            I agree with you, everyone who complains about america needs to leave and stop sponging up all of our resources. I’m stopping before this becomes a full blown rant 🙂

  • Nathaniel A.

    Same with the Hindu “swastika”, the Nazi’s taking a seemingly nondescript symbol and perverting it for their own purposes.

    EDIT: 1,000th comment!

    • lbatfish

      And may you make 1000 more! 🙂

      • Nathaniel A.

        I intend to, though I am not so sure I should be proud of 1,000…

  • treky chick

    I hate it. Teachers can’t by law require you to, but apparently no one told some of my teachers

  • Tomjerry

    Its good Patriot for the salute to the American Flag.

  • Jordan Joestar

    That reminds me to:

    “¡Bandera de México!
    Legado de nuestros héroes,
    Símbolo de la unidad
    de nuestros padres
    y de nuestros hermanos,
    te prometemos ser siempre fieles
    a los principios de libertad y justicia
    que hacen de nuestra Patria,
    la nación independiente,
    humana y generosa,
    a la que entregamos
    nuestra existencia.”

  • I never understood fanatical patriotism. How is a child suppose to have an opinion about how great their country is when most never lived outside of that country? Web Development Company