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Knoxville's Little-Known History: City Flag Nears 120th Anniversary 
Knoxville created its municipal flag in 1896 - predating the state's flag by nearly 10 years.

Did you know that Knoxville has an official City flag? If not, then here's another surprise: Knoxville's official colors are white, blue, red, black and gold.

No orange.

October 16 marks the 120th anniversary of the Knoxville City Council in 1896 adopting an ordinance establishing an official City flag, colors and coat of arms.

As Knoxville approaches the 225th anniversary of its founding on Oct. 3, 2016, we look back at City government's little-known historical facts and interesting trivia.

Where was the first City Hall located? Which mayors were immigrants from Scotland, Switzerland, Ireland, England and Germany? And which former mayor boasted the most interesting facial hair? (Check out the mayoral portrait gallery on the fifth floor of the City County Building.)

Got a suggestion for a vignette on an interesting historical tidbit about Knoxville's city government? Email your idea and whatever facts you've gathered to Eric Vreeland at evreeland@knoxvilletn.gov.

We'll start off with a look at the history of how the City's flag came to be.

The history

Knoxville's citizens and elected officials in 1896 were eager to demonstrate their community pride.

Horace van Deventer, a Knoxville citizen and attorney, thought that a flag would serve the purpose as the perfect symbol. The Chamber of Commerce agreed and sponsored a nationwide contest for the flag’s design. Lloyd Branson, a Knoxville painter professionally trained at the National Academy of Design in New York City who studied further in Paris, won the prize - and a $100 award.

On Oct. 16, 1896, City Council passed City Ordinance 958, "establishing a flag, colors, and coat of arms for the City of Knoxville and regulating the use and display thereof." Six days later, a sewn flag was presented to Mayor S.G. Heiskell.

What’s on the flag?

Since the flag was created to reflect pride in the community, the designers used many symbols and colors on the flag to depict elements of Knoxville.

For example, the azure blue was chosen to represent loyalty, and the gules red was chosen to represent bravery. The black and white stripes on the flag were chosen to represent coal and marble - major industries in the 19th century. The wide stripe in the center represents faith, and at the center of the flag is a "golden wheel of progress," which houses the Knoxville seal.

Within this winged wheel is the quartered shield, or the coat of arms. Atop the shield are nine gold stars, representing the City's nine wards in 1896. Also included are a sheaf of wheat and a shock of corn, representing agriculture; a white derrick, representing marble; gold colored picks representing various types of mining; a black railroad engine representing transportation or commerce; and a factory, representing manufacturing.

How has the flag changed?

Over the past 120 years, the Knoxville flag has undergone at least three minor changes. Most of the changes updated the seal on the flag. However, one change replaced Tennessee’s statehood year of 1796 at the bottom of the seal to the date of Knoxville’s founding in 1791.

Although the seal has a more modern feel now, the flag’s colors and stripes have never changed. Here’s a photo of the original sketch:

Sketch for Knoxville's original flag

Celebrations of milestones

This fall, Knoxville will celebrate both the 225th anniversary of the city's founding and the 120th anniversary of the city's flag.

Dr. David Kitts, Program Manager with the Knoxville Police Department's Special Crimes Unit, appreciates that the flag is a unique part of Knoxville’s history. But he couldn't understand why hardly anyone seemed to know that Knoxville had a flag.

So Kitts did his part to share that historical story. He created a Wikipedia page devoted to the Knoxville flag: 


- Communications intern Tyler Cookston

Knoxville's official flag, created in 1896

Posted by evreeland On 02 September, 2016 at 4:28 PM