The flags of New York City include the flag of New York City, the respective flags of the boroughs of The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island, and flags of certain city departments. The city flag is a vertical tricolor in blue, white, and orange and charged in the center bar with the Seal of New York City in blue. The tricolor design is derived from the flag of the Dutch Republic—the Prince's Flag—as used in New Amsterdam in 1625.
For the first few hundred years of its existence, the City of New York lacked an official flag and seal. By the end of the 19th century, the city was flying an unofficial flag featuring a round blue seal on a white field.
In 1914, to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the installation of the first mayor under English rule, the City Art Commission appointed a blue-ribbon committee to create the city's first official seal and flag. The committee consulted with the New-York Historical Society to study historical seals used by city government under the Dutch and English, to incorporate their symbolism into the new city seal and flag.
The Committee described their proposed flag this way:
In our flag, the colors are Dutch, the arms are English, the crest is distinctively American, but the flag as such is the flag of the City, which has grown from these beginnings to be the home of all nations, the great cosmopolitan city of the world, the City of New York. — Committee of the Art Commission Associates, Seal and Flag of the City of New York, p. 84
The flag was approved on April 6, 1915 and first unveiled to the public on June 24.
The current design dates from December 30, 1977, when the seal was subtly modified. The date was changed from 1664 (when the Kingdom of England took possession) to 1625. The change was proposed by the Irish-born Paul O'Dwyer, president of the City Council, to emphasize the Dutch contributions to the city's history and downplay the British legacy. The choice of date was controversial at the time; an aide to First Deputy Mayor James A. Cavanagh concluded: "In researching the validity of this proposal, I find no basis for 1625 as the founding date." An aide to then-Mayor Abe Beame suggested that 1624 would be a more accurate date, as that was when the city was actually chartered as a legal Dutch entity. Author Edwin G. Burrows had another perspective on the debate, saying "You have to wonder if they didn’t pick either 1626 or 1625 just to beat Boston, settled in 1630." Nonetheless, the mayor signed O'Dwyer's legislation.
Section 2-103 of the New York City Administrative Code ("Official city flag") establishes the design as follows: A flag combining the colors orange, white and blue arranged in perpendicular bars of equal dimensions (the blue being nearest to the flagstaff) with the standard design of the seal of the city in blue upon the middle, or white bar, omitting the legend "Sigillum Civitatis Novi Eboraci," which colors shall be the same as those of the flag of the United Netherlands in use in the year sixteen hundred twenty-five.
The blue, white and orange refer to the colors of the historical Dutch flag. Orange is the color the Dutch adopted after their leader William of Orange. The Committee's report stated that "the order of arrangement follows the practice found in the French, Belgian and other tri-colors, of placing the darkest bar next to the staff."
The New-York Historical Society originally proposed adopting a horizontal tricolor to be more reflective of the historical Dutch flags, but the Committee kept the vertical orientation.
The flag is sometimes, but rarely, flown without the seal at the center, making it a simple blue, white, and orange tricolor.
The flag is flown frequently throughout the city. It is always flown at city-owned buildings such as New York City Hall, as well as buildings occupied by city departments or institutions, and it is also flown in city parks.
Several New York City sports teams have adopted the colors of the flag as their official team colors, including the New York Knicks NBA basketball team, the New York Mets Major League Baseball team, and the New York City FC of Major League Soccer. In 2017, NYCFC added the tricolor city flag to its jersey, substituting its own "NYC" monogram in place of the seal. The New York Islanders National Hockey League team also uses the orange, blue and white, however, although the team moved to the New York City borough of Brooklyn in 2015, the team colors were selected when the team played in Nassau County, Long Island, which also has blue and orange as official colors.
The office of the Mayor of New York City has its own official variant, to which is added an arc of five five-pointed stars (representing each of the five boroughs) in blue above the seal. The dimensions of the Mayor's flag are set at 33 inches by 44 inches.
Currently, only Brooklyn and the Bronx have official borough flags. The other three boroughs have standard designs in current use, though they have never been officially adopted. Staten Island borough lawmakers pushed to have their flag officially recognized by the state in the 1990s and early 2000s but were unsuccessful.
The design of the flag of The Bronx consists of a horizontal tricolor. The top band is orange, the middle band is white, and the band at the bottom is blue, mimicking the historical Dutch tricolor. In the center of the flag is a laurel wreath denoting honor and fame. The wreath encircles the Bronck family arms. The shield of the family arms shows the face of the sun with rays displayed rising from the sea, signifying peace, liberty, and commerce. The crest of the arms is an eagle facing eastward and with its wings expanded, representing "the hope of the New World while not forgetting the Old." The text underneath the shield is also the motto of the borough, and reads "ne cede malis," which is a Latin phrase meaning "Yield not to evil".
The flag of Brooklyn has been in use since at least 1860, when Brooklyn was an independent city.
The flag of Brooklyn has a white background with a seal at the center. Within the seal is an image of the Goddess of Justice set on a background of light blue, and bearing fasces, a traditional emblem of unity. The fasces is composed of six rods, representing the six towns of the original Dutch settlement. Encircling that image is a ring of dark blue and the Old Dutch phrase "Een Draght Maekt Maght" (modern Dutch: "Eendracht maakt macht") which translates into English as "Unity makes strength". Also in the darker ring are the words "Borough of Brooklyn". The outside and inside trim of the seal are gold-colored. The primary colors of the seal reflect the recognized colors of the borough, blue and gold.
The Borough of Manhattan unofficial flag is very similar to the New York City flag. The only difference from the City flag is the use of the seal of the Borough in place of the City Seal. The seal is similar to the city's, but circular in shape. It has two stars below and is encircled by the inscription "BOROUGH OF MANHATTAN" NOVEMBER 1, 1683. The date at the bottom is the date on which the Province of New York was divided into twelve counties by New York Governor Thomas Dongan, and it was created the New York County (Manhattan) with the same border in use today. Previously the Borough used the same flag but with the encircling inscription "The President of the Borough of Manhattan" "NYC" to represent the institution in official occasions.
The flag of Queens contains three horizontal bands, with the top and bottom being sky blue, and the middle white. These colors represent the arms of the first Dutch Governor Willem Kieft. At its center is a design consisting of a ring of wampum, a tulip, and a rose. At the top-left of the flag is a crown, the words 'Qveens Borovgh' emblazoned in gold, and 1898, the year the five boroughs were consolidated.
The symbols on the flag's design represent the borough's collective heritage with the wampum paying homage to the Lenape natives who formerly called the land 'Seawanhaka' (a word meaning "island of sea shells") in reference to it being a place where they would collect clams and whelks used to make these beads. The tulip shown on the flag represents the Dutch, who were early settlers of the area. The red and white rose is a Tudor rose, a traditional symbol of England and the English monarchy. The queen's crown signifies the namesake of the borough, which was named in honor of Catherine of Braganza, Queen Consort of England in 1683, when New York's original twelve counties (of which Queens was one) were established.
The Queens flag was adopted on June 3, 1913, and first displayed four days later at a celebration marking the beginning of construction on the borough's dual rapid transit system.
The current flag of Staten Island was adopted in 2016. The flag has flown over the Staten Island Advance and Chamber of Commerce buildings, and is on display in City Hall and Staten Island Borough Hall.
Staten Island has had three unofficial flags. The first was adopted at the same time as the flags of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. It featured a navy blue background with an orange seal in the center, containing two waterfowl and the text "Richmond Borough 1663 1898 New York". "Borough of Richmond" was the official name of Staten Island prior to 1975.
The next flag consisted of elements designed for a contest held in 1971 by Staten Island's Borough President Robert T. Connor. That flag had a white background with an oval in the center. Within the oval is a blue sky and two white seagulls. The green outline represented the countryside, and the white shape represented the cityscape, denoting the residential areas of Staten Island. In the center of the oval were found the words "Staten Island" in gold. Under the name, five wavy blue lines symbolized the bodies of water surrounding the island.
The prior flag of had been criticized by Borough President James Oddo, who told the Staten Island Advance that the current flag "looks like the Fresh Kills Landfill. The bird looks like a seagull, the mountain looks like a garbage pile."
In March 2016, Oddo created a new flag and new seal for the borough. Set in earth tones, each features an allegoric female figure representing the city standing on the island's shore and looking out onto the Narrows, where Henry Hudson's ship The Half Moon is at anchor. In the background is a small canoe with three oystermen; two native Staten Islanders, and the third a sailor from the Half Moon. At the time, Oddo said that he had not decided if they'll try to make the new flag official, like the flags of Brooklyn and the Bronx. The City of New York purchased copies of this flag in 2017 for official functions.
The flag of the New York City Police Department was adopted in 1919.
It has twenty-four stars on a blue field, representing the original towns and villages that now compose the city. Five green and white stripes represent the five boroughs.
Officers killed in the line of duty have the police department flag draped over their caskets.
The flag of the Fire Department of the City of New York has five red and white stripes, representing the five boroughs. The canton features a Maltese cross with the city seal in the center, surrounded by a hook, ladder, fire hydrant and the letters "F.D.N.Y.".
The Fire Department uses a variant flag, in a vertical orientation with the Maltese Cross turned on its side and gold fringe, draped over the caskets of fallen department members.
The flag of the Department of Correction was adopted in 1998, upon the centennial of the consolidation of New York City. It features sixteen blue and white stripes, the same number of major facilities administered by the department at that time. On an orange canton sits the Seal of the City of New York in gold, surrounded by five stars for the five boroughs and the year "1895", when the department was created.
The Parks Department flag is flown on a yardarm over every park in New York City, alongside the city flag and beneath the flag of the United States of America. These yardarms were controversial when first introduced in 1997, partly because they were considered by some to be inappropriate outside of a nautical context and partly because it was seen by the former president of the city's Art Commission as over-reaching on the part of Parks Commissioner Henry Stern.
The flag of the New York City Sheriff's Office flag features a navy blue field, on which is the city's seal in blue against an oblong white background outlined in gold and red. The words "SHERIFF'S OFFICE" and "CITY OF NEW YORK" are set in gold horizontal text above and below the seal, respectively.
The New York City Department of Sanitation flag features the department's symbol - a caduceus with the letter "S" superimposed upon it - against a blue field, surrounded by the words "THE CITY OF NEW YORK" and "DEPARTMENT OF SANITATION" in gold.