Without Whitney Smith there would be no vexillology. Ok that isn’t strictly true. There would still be those of us who find flags fascinating and love to learn about them, but we wouldn’t call it what we do today. At the age of just 18, frustrated that there was no word for the study of flags, Whitney combined the latin word for flag “vexillum” with the Greek “-ology”, meaning “the study of”. This was the birth of the term vexillology!
From there, Smith only continued to innovate in the flag world! In 1961, he and fellow enthusiast Gerhard Grahl published the first journal on the study of flags – The Flag Journal. A year later he established The Flag Research Centre in the USA. He didn’t stop in America though, helping to organise the First International Congress of Vexillology, which was held in the Netherlands in 1965.
When he wasn’t helping set up international events, he was helping to found vexillological societies! Among others, he played an important role in the formation of the International Federation of Vexillological Associations (FIAV) and the North American Vexillological Association (NAVA)!
Over the course of his life, Smith was a very creative author. He wrote 27 books on the topic of flags, including the seminal ‘Flags Through The Ages And Around The World’. Not only this, but he is the most prolific contributor to the online Encyclopedia Britannia, with an astounding 293 contributions! I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what he wrote about!
And of course, with such a huge interest in flags, Whitney had a hand in some flag designing of his own!
While still at college, he heard about the independence movements going on in Guyanna. He sent the president of the region a letter, asking what his flag plan was once independence was achieved. The president replied that there were no plans, and did Whitney have any ideas? Of course he did! By 1966, Guyanna was an indepenent nation, and they hoisted Whitney’s flag, which still represents the country to this day!
He also assisted in the design of the lovely-looking flag of Bonaire (a Caribbean island that is part of the Netherlands)!
Whitney Smith sadly passed away in 2016, aged just 76. He did leave an incredible legacy though. Besides his massive body of work in the field, he basically invented the field! Without his passion, vexillology would not be what it is today. If not for Whitney, those of us who share his passion may not have the wealth of resources that are out there.
So on World Vexillology Day, he is an important person to remember! He loved the symbolism of flags, and understood the power that they possess, and this is something we should all be mindful of!