The United States comprise fifty states, each with its own governor and legislative assembly, including the District of Columbia, namely, the city of Washington, which is autonomous as the federal capital. The flag of the United States, perhaps the most famous flag in the world, has a history that follows the very development of the federal state. The origin of the Stars and Stripes, as it is affectionately called, is debatable, although the English flags used in the colonies in the eighteenth century definitely formed the basis of the colour scheme and design. The history of the flag. The first American national flag was in fact the British Red Ensign with six horizontal white stripes. During the revolution, between 1775 and 1783, many banners were adopted by the various states, which were all very different to one another and had meanings of freedom and independence. In the end, a flag with thirteen white and red stripes and the same number of stars was chosen, symbolic of the thirteen colonies, which were raised against Great Britain. Used in several versions, it was only defined in terms of size, proportions and colours in the early nineteenth century. Since then it has been changed twenty-seven times. In 1918, the federal government realised how impossible it would be to follow the tradition whereby a stripe and a star is added for every new federated state and the decision was made that only the stars would be increased. The version currently in use dates back to 1960 after the entry into the union of Hawaii. Use and customs. The US flag has always been much loved throughout the country, so much so that it has sparked special flag-related traditions, songs ("The Star-spangled Banner" is the American national anthem) and nicknames, such as Old Glory, which stem from stories and, in particular, memories of military action involving the flag. The custom of displaying the flag at all public occasions, in offices and buildings of particular importance, like schools, to emphasise the link between flag and education also stems from the affection that ties Americans to their flag. Laws against publicly insulting the flag are particularly strict in the US.