Before Whitney Smith, the study of flags didn’t have a name. So he invented the word vexillology. He was 18 years old.
According to his New York Times obituary, this scholar not only increased our knowledge of flags; he added to them:
Mr. Smith came up with a prototype, a golden arrowlike triangle with an overlapping red triangle against a green ground. He then asked his mother to sew it and sent it in. It was adopted, with slight modifications. Mr. Smith did not find out for six years, when Guyana gained formal independence.
There have been over two dozen versions of the Stars and Stripes since independence. Which was Mr. Smith’s favorite? The Betsy Ross flag, because “a ring of stars better symbolizes our harmony in diversity.”