Its frequent appearances on my Facebook feed over the past week has reminded me of an unavoidable fact about Wisconsin, a state I ordinarily love: the Wisconsin flag is an abomination.

This shitshow violates every one of the basic principles of vexillology, not to mention taste and common sense. Yes, there are principles of vexillology (the design and academic study of flags) thanks to the wonderful dorks at the North American Vexillogical Association. It offers a helpful publication entitled Good Flag, Bad Flag that I stumbled upon many years ago while attempting to design a logo for a student organization. Note how many of these principles Wisconsin disregarded:

1. Keep it simple
2. Use meaningful symbolism
3. Use 2 or 3 colors
4. No lettering or seals
5. Be distinctive

This is the sort of thing one never contemplates but when it is explained it makes perfect sense. Then again, one doesn't necessarily need a theoretical explanation to pick a crappy flag out of a lineup as this study of city flags proves. See if you can find the terrible one!

Come on, Milwaukee. If you're going for camp, why not Alice Cooper saying "It's Algonquin for…'the good land'." Washington D.C. and Chicago keep things simple and accordingly have flags that kick considerably more ass. Aside from my native fondness for Chicago's design, I'd say that these are my two favorite flags:

The first one is New Mexico, of course. How about you? Feel free to share some particularly excellent or appalling designs you've encountered over the years. I'll award a cash prize to the first person who can find a flag uglier than Louisiana's. Nice pelican, losers.

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  1. ts46064 Says:

    The Indianapolis flag is excellent.

    I'm fond of the Indiana flag as well, even though it does have lettering. Could just be a home state thing.

    Here are two more awesome flags

  2. Ike Says:

    The California bear looks kind of retarded or perhaps hungover. The Oregon flag is nifty because it is two-sided with a beaver on the back.

  3. Brian Says:

    Maryland is harsh, but Mississippi wins the god-awful poor taste award for incorporating the flag of "treason in defense of slavery."

  4. Hobbes Says:

    Say what you will about the state flag, but Madison's city flag is well-designed and aesthetically pleasing.

  5. Scott Says:

    The constituent parts of Russia have some excellent flags and some really ugly flags.

    Here they all are:

    My vote for the coolest flag is Yaroslavl Oblast. It's a bear that is waving hello and carrying a poleaxe. Nothing beats that.

    The worst flag I have ever seen belongs to Penza Oblast. I'm not going to describe it, just look for yourself.

    I'll be expecting my money, Ed. That shit is uglier than a pelican.

  6. Brad Says:

    Say what you will about our flag; our state motto "Forward" stands in direct contrast to the GOP's "Backward" (to the Gilded Age) and has much to recommend it. Sorry to talk politics on a Friday, but we cheeseheads have always felt the need to keep a close watch on Chicagoans ;)

  7. electricgrendel Says:

    Um. Is that baby pelican on the Louisiana flag breathing fire? Because- while the flag gleefully violates almost all of the principles of vexillology, a fire breathing pelican is bad ass.

  8. quimby Says:

    I think Washington state should rank pretty highly in the "bad flag" ranks, but admittedly, the competition looks strong. I've always been struck by the thought that the portrait looks like GW is just sort of wandering by.

  9. Arslan Amirkhanov Says:

    Sometimes "simple" is just plain stupid. For example, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The original flag was seen as a "Muslim" design even though it had the crest of a non-Muslim king- the last before the conquest by the Ottomans if I remember correctly. Now it has less to do with Bosnia(save that Bosnia is vaguely triangular) and looks more like some kind of European Union colonial flag(rather appropriate since the country is effectively run by a viceroy known as the high official). Ditto with "Kosova".

    Russia also maintains Moscow's supremacy by forcing federal "autonomous republics"(read: fiefdoms) to adopt incredibly boring flags, such as that of Tatarstan. Despite having a FUCKING FLYING SNOW LEOPARD for a symbol, Tatarstan's basic flag is red and green with a thin, white stripe in the middle. Fuck…

    Arizona's flag kicks ass because if you yellow up the star and remove the sunbeams from the top, you basically get the National Liberation Front flag from South Vietnam.

    The flag of Texas is too easily confused with Chile. Chile has a star in a canton, Texas in a vertical stripe.

    Poland, Ukraine- BORING.

    Rwanda- Bigass R in the middle of the flag.

    Kansas- I just hate Kansas, I don't care what's on the flag.

  10. JMP Says:

    Well some quick thoughts here on WI.

    1.) 1848 stands for? Revolution! Now!

    2.) OK what's WI known for? The battleship? It's in there. Mining? In there too.

    3.) At least it's got a Union 'standard' or shield in it.

  11. Nunya Says:

    I will be incorporating "Vexillology" into my daily speech.

    "Well, vexillogically speaking, your argument lacks merit."

    I'll give $5.00 to the person who first calls me out on it.

    That being said, embiggens is a perfectly cromulent word.

  12. Natalie Says:

    @Ike I just moved to Oregon and was going to talk trash about the flag. It's that same blue background, impossible to distinguish seal, it has text…..and then the go and put a BEAVER on the other side. *headdesk*

  13. Brighton Says:

    Cmon Ed louisiana's ain't as bad as our own Georgia state flag. Especially since we are the ones who put the confederate flag back in, rather than removing it.

  14. ZakAttack Says:

    Shouldn't the two blue-collar guys flanking the seal be replaced by the Koch brothers?

  15. j Says:

    @ Scott–

    Hah! You took the words right out of my mouth. I read the first half of your comment, then looked at the list of flags and immediately I saw that Penza Oblast flag and was palpably frightened. Then I read the rest of your comment and laughed out loud! I guess if you want to strike fear into the hearts of your enemies on the battlefield you put Jesus scowling at them on your coat of arms!

  16. anotherbozo Says:

    My wife's country's flag is aggressively ugly, I always thought. No grace at all:

    The black on white, and the yin-yang symbol in the middle in two clashing colors, maybe reflects a practical, no nonsense people, but certainly not the refinement of their celadon ceramists. The flag manages to make even sophisticated symbology look harsh and heavy-handed, kind of like a billboard for meditation classes. It was designed by a colorblind second-grader, maybe. With all the colors in the rainbow to choose from, they went with — black and white? Their former design was even worse, but I can't find any samples.

    Of course it's not in the same league as Milwaukee's.

    Vexillology is a new word for me, too. Woulda thought it was the study of annoyance, though.

  17. acer Says:

    Washington State is right up there with Louisiana. I also have a deep-seeded disgust with Hawaii's flag. They should just fly a Hawaiian shirt.

    Also, this:

  18. tenacitus Says:

    I've always wished that the Nigerian flag would have one other colour. And some type of symbol in the middle. I don't know what. I like the coat of arms but think its too much to put it in the centre of the flag. I am sure that in the 1960s Tafawa Balewa really did not want the flag to be taintend with the panafricanist colours we see in other regional flags such as Ghana's.

  19. Kate Says:

    I've always thought that the Japanese wipe the floor with everyone else flagwise.

  20. Ursula Says:

    I always felt weird about the Wisconsin flag while growing up [in Wisconsin], and now I understand why.

    I also recently remarked to a friend that the New Mexico license plate is my favorite plate, and its mainly because of that yellow field and the red circle/cross that is on their flag.

  21. Morbo Says:

    "I've always thought that the Japanese wipe the floor with everyone else flagwise."

    I agree, particularly when you realize that most of them are incorporating relevant characters into the design.

  22. Geds Says:

    Inasmuch as Chicago's flag is badass, it stands in direct contrast to Illinois' aggressively stupid flag. I'd actually forgotten how dumb and classless it was until I went and looked at a picture. I thought, "No, that can't be the flag. It doesn't look that bad." Sadly, I was wrong.

  23. Ed Says:

    Wow. Russian oblasts win for the worst flags and Japan wins on the other end of the spectrum.

    The japanese appear to understand clearly that the flag is supposed to be a SYMBOL, not a pamphlet.

  24. Michael Says:

    Ottawa, Canada

  25. Depressing Nature Says:

    I don't care how many principles of vexillology it violates, Blackbeard's flag wins.

  26. geemoney Says:

    I'm biased, but the NM flag DOES kick ass.

    The thing in the middle is called a Zia.

  27. Ted Major Says:

    Perhaps this is the one area in which Wisconsin should emulate Alabama: vexillologically speaking, it's a pretty good flag.

  28. cerb Says:

    Some of the old 1800s German flags are hideous. This one has way too much going on:

  29. Del Says:

    @ electricgrendal – those are drops of blood. The mother pelican is wounding herself to feed her young. People used to believe pelicans actually did this, and the idea still stands as "emblematic of Christian charity." I have fond memories of singing the "Pie Pelicane" verse of Adoro Te Devote at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Baton Rouge.

    I hadn't realized that my home state recently required pelican blood on its flag. The internets teach us so much.

  30. Entomologista Says:

    Well some quick thoughts here on WI.
    1.) 1848 stands for? Revolution! Now!
    2.) OK what's WI known for? The battleship? It's in there. Mining? In there too.

    We had to learn all about the Wisconsin flag in elementary school. Let's see if I can help. 1848 is the year Wisconsin became a state. The anchor is supposed to represent shipping in the Great Lakes, I think. Mining in the Iron Range was sort of a big deal, until it wasn't and the towns up north were all left to rot.

  31. xynzee Says:

    @Scott: B#ll$#¡†! Penza Oblast? They're amateurs. And you just have no sense of crap.

    @Ed: I hate to admit this, but you owe me a slab of beer for this one.

    This is simply embarrassing.

    It's as if the R's or (the future Tea Partiers) of my home town couldn't bring themselves to pay a designer to come up with something. So instead they let Vera (I think her name was Vera) on the customer service counter knock something up using Word.

    Though, going back to an earlier topic of the week. Anyone notice the typo in the Louisiana flag? Only in the South.

  32. johnsmith1882 Says:

    As we all know, the two blue stripes in the Chicago flag represent the two branches of the Chicago River, and the four stars represent by how many exponents our city kicks your city's ass.

  33. acer Says:

    When Rahmbo is sworn in, Chicago's flag will switch out the four stars and simply read "FUCK." I hear he swears a lot.

  34. JMG Says:

    What about Ohio's flag. It isn't even a flag, it's a pennant.

  35. MB Says:

    RE: JMG's comment above… Not just a pennant, a burgee.

    "Unique among the state flags of the union, the Ohio State Flag was designed by John Eisemann. Described as a pennant, the Ohio burgee is properly a swallowtail design." —

  36. sluggo Says:

    Little know fact: this is actually France's flag:

  37. mothra Says:

    Why thank you, for loving our state flag. It is the Zia symbol of the sun, and that pueblo's symbol. Here, for all you Zia symbol-challenged people is what the four rays of the sun mean:

    the four points of the compass (north, south, east, and west);
    the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter);
    the four periods of each day (morning, noon, evening and night);
    the four seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle years and old age); and
    the Zia's belief that with life comes four sacred obligations one must develop (a strong body, a clear mind, a pure spirit, and a devotion to the welfare of others).

  38. Uri Says:

    I've long liked this site, where a university lecturer grades the world's flags:

  39. choada777 Says:

    Nice. Didn't even know vexilollogy even existed.

    Gotta agree with Ed on the NM flag (Full disclosure: I live in NM).

    ^Those Japanese flags are pretty nice though. Kind of nice to see something other than the more common and typical polygons (e.g. stripes, stars, crosses, etc.)

    ^From the post above, the Russian flag for Ingusheta caught my eye as a nice design. (

    ^Before it became associated with Nazi Germany, many Native American tribes incorporated the swastika into their artwork. Those that predate the 1940's, anyway. When they discovered the association with Nazi Germany multiple tribes signed a decree agreeing to 'banish' use of the symbol. There is a copy of the decree in a museum in Santa Fe, NM…as well as many rug & pottery displays adorned with the symbol.

  40. leon Says:

    Wow, lots of Oregonians in here. I'm on the "the Oregon flag is no good" side, but Portland's is pretty nice; nothing special, but better than West Linn's. I have always liked NM's flag, but my eyes have been opened by the people touting Japan's and Ottawa's–those are my new faves.

  41. Origuy Says:

    One of the oldest sites on the web that still gets updated is Flags of the World.

  42. Ben Says:

    I'm a proud Angeleno, but our flag sucks:,_California.svg

    The pinking shear style cut makes it look like something an 8 year old made in art class.

    My wife's from Mexico and she always says their flag looks like it has a giant chicken eating a gummy worm on it.

  43. black Says:

    here's Oklahoma's FIRST state flag from 1911-1925, until it was banished in the 192's Red Scare.

  44. black Says:

    here's Oklahoma's FIRST state flag from 1911-1925, until it was banished in the 1920's Red Scare

  45. ts46064 Says:

    While this flag is not official and has probably never been made. The Antarctic flag design by professional vexillologist Whitney Smith is very nice.

  46. acer Says:

    LA's flag is not hot. The CA state flag, on the other hand, is straight unfuckwithable. Animals are a risky choice, but if you're going there, go with a Godless Killing Machine. That flag kills most NFL logos.

  47. Major Kong Says:

    Hard to beat the flag of Mozambique:

    If you told them the book was a Bible the Tea Party would adopt this as their own.

  48. ts46064 Says:

    Sorry this flag beats all the Russian oblast flags

  49. matt Says:

    the Union Jack is the best flag in the world, hands down. Simple, three colored, distinctive, meaningful symbolism. It's the whole package.

  50. jeneria Says:

    My home state's flag (Montana) has always looked like it was an advertisement for raping our natural resources. I think Montana should put Gary Cooper (from Helena), Evel Knieval (Butte), and Jeanette Rankin (voted against WWI and WWII) on our flag.

    I always kind of liked Louisiana's flag. Baton Rouge's flag, on the other hand, is gallons of weak sauce.

    I live in Milwaukee and I love the flag. I think we're lucky it's not just a can of PBR fighting it out with a can of Schlitz on a backdrop of vomit and blood.

  51. Evan Says:


  52. smelter rat Says:

    The Province of Newfoundland & Labrador has the coolest flag of any Canadian province:

  53. Bella Q Says:

    How about Sicily? It's pretty awful.

  54. Paul Camp Says:

    I'm thinking that a flag that features Confederacy emblems is uglier than Louisiana's. So that would include every flag that has flown over Georgia since the 50's. Much as I respect Roy Barnes, that compromise flag he created was godawful.

  55. Eric O Says:

    The flag for my home state of New Jersey is pretty bad and violates every rule you listed. It's not simple or original, it's got at least a half dozen colors, it's just the state seal, and its symbolism includes a hat on a stick. Yes, it's a liberty cap and Liberty is the one holding the stick, but it's still a hat on a stick. On top of that, it includes a knight's helmet topped by a severed horse's head, presumably to remind everyone of the state's mafia presence.

  56. Nunya Says:

    A total non-sequiter but this little gem from Ronald Reagan just surfaces on the interwebs:

  57. Osric1 Says:

    A quick note on mining in WI, yes it is true, there used to be a hell of a lot of copper mining here. In fact we have some of the world's purest copper. There was so much in such pure quantities that local tribes actually had a method of mining copper that simply involved starting a huge fire next to a wall of rock with giant copper veins in it, when I say a huge fire, I mean the size of your apartment building. Then when the metal expanded from the heat it would destroy the more brittle rock and dislodge itself, then once it cooled down they could actually just pick it up and walk away with it.

  58. BostonCharlie Says:

    Could there be anything simpler and more direct than the good old Red Flag?

  59. Bill Says:

    Here are some horrible flags from across the globe.

    And my personal favorite:
    St. Petersburg, Florida

  60. Bill Says:

    Oh god… and there's this.

  61. Algerine Says:

    Fuck you, our pelicans rock! (And are tasty.)

  62. Kerry Says:

    I didn't realize cities even had flags. Where have I been? Oregon, that's where.

    Speaking of Oregon, any state that has the guts to put a beaver on the butt-side of its flag…well we just hafta win.

  63. [BOBY] Says:

    Hey I'm a Louisianian sayin our flag isn't that bad. It's much nicer than virginia's…