The First Flag
During José Miguel Carrera’s Administration, Chile was still trying to secure its independence from Spain. The creation of a rosette and a national flag was commissioned, in order to give Chile symbols to differentiate itself as a newly independent country.
The new flag was raised for the first time on July 4th, 1812. This occurred on the occasion of a celebration of the independence of the United States, an event that had had an enormous impact on the first Chilean political parties. A short time afterward, on September 30th of that year, the national flag and coat of arms of the Patria Vieja («Old Nation,» a name for the first phase of the struggle for Chilean independence) were solemnly adopted. However, the adoption of these symbols was not a huge national event, nor did the Government issue a decree to finalize the adoption.
For Camilo Henríquez, a writer and journalist in the times of the early Republic, the new symbols represented the three main values of the State: Majesty, Law and Force. However, the flag did not last through the Patria Vieja period. In May of 1814, due to the Treaty of Lircay, Colonel Francisco de la Lastra-the Supreme Director of Chile, and sworn enemy of Carrera-ordered that the flag be retired and replaced by the Spanish colors.
That first Chilean flag was thus used for the last time on October 1st and 2nd, 1814, during the Battle of Rancagua. This event was the beginning of the Reconquista, or Reconquest, in Chile, in which Spain endeavored to take back those colonial territories which had declared themselves independent. During this time, Chile did not have its own flag. In fact, the Liberation Army, organized in Argentina, fought the Spaniards in the Battle of Chacabuco under the Argentine flag.
That battle, which took place on February 12th, 1817, marked the end of royalist dominance and the beginning of the Patria Nueva, or «New Country,» the next phase of the consolidation of Chilean independence, in which the national symbols gained greater importance. From then on, the Spanish flag was never used again.
The Flag of Transition
After the triumph of the Liberation Army in the Battle of Chacabuco, a new flag, known as the Flag of the Transition, was adopted on October 18th, 1817. Its design has been attributed to Juan Gregorio de Las Heras, and was widely distributed and recognized.
It consisted of three horizontal stripes of blue, white and red, red having replaced the yellow stripe in the 1812 flag. The idea for the stripes originated from a verse of «La Araucana,» a poem by Alonso de Ercilla written about the efforts of the Mapuches-a large indigenous group in Chile-to ward off the Spanish conquerors.
The color red symbolized the blood spilled by Chile’s heroes on the battlefield; the white symbolized the snow on the Andes Mountains; the blue symbolized the cloudless Chilean sky.
Just like the first flag, this flag was also never legally recognized, and soon disappeared. This was due, among other things, to the fact that it was easily confused with the Dutch flag
The Current Flag
The current flag was originally conceived by José Ignacio Zenteno, the Minister of War during Bernardo O’Higgins’ Administration. It was most likely designed by the Spanish soldier Antonio Arcos, although some historians maintain that it was Gregorio de Andía y Varela who designed it.
Legally adopted by decree on October 18th, 1817, it was this flag that was used when Chile became officially independent.
In 1854, the proportion among the three colors of the flag was fixed, and in 1912, the size of the diameter of the star was defined. That same year, the colors of the Presidential sash-blue, white and red, from top to bottom or from left to right, depending on the angle from which it is seen-were also established.
The current flag was also officially adopted by Supreme Decree No. 1534 of the Interior Ministry, which established Chile’s national symbols as the following: the Coat of Arms of the Republic, the National Flag, the Rosette, and the Presidential Standard, or National Presidential Flag. The Constitution of the Republic of Chile establishes, in the first section of article 22, that «all inhabitants of the Republic owe respect to Chile and to its national symbols.»