What Is the History of South Dakota's State Flag?

Pablo Garcia

South Dakota may be a rarity among American states in having apparently three official state flags of varying design in existence at the same time. The first design of South Dakota’s state flag ultimately proved too costly to maintain. It was replaced by a similar but less expensive design in 1963. A 1992 law changed South Dakota’s nickname from "The Sunshine State" to “The Mount Rushmore State.” The legislation for both the 1963 and 1992 changes contained a provision that any previous flags made in conformance with South Dakota law were to remain an official state flags.

An early South Dakota flag reflected the state's former nickname of "The Sunshine State."
An early South Dakota flag reflected the state's former nickname of "The Sunshine State."

Each version of South Dakota’s state flag incorporated the South Dakota state seal in its design. What became the state seal was designed before South Dakota’s admission to the Union as the 40th US state in 1889. The original design of South Dakota’s state flag was adopted in 1909. The design was created by Ida Anding McNeil, a legislative librarian for South Dakota. The flag was two-sided, with a blazing sun on one side and the Great Seal of South Dakota on the other.

On the 1909 flag, a sun in gold is centered on a blue background. Above the sun, in the arc of its circle, are inscribed in gold letters “South Dakota.” Below the sun, likewise in the arc of its circle, “The Sunshine State” is written in gold lettering. On the reverse side of the sun, the state seal is printed on a field of dark blue.

The State seal consists of a circle in which various symbols of South Dakota are displayed. Dividing the circle of the seal is a river on which a steamer is traveling. To the right of the river a farmer is plowing a row for planting, and beyond the farmer cattle are grazing in a field. Across the river is a smelting works, and snow-capped mountains loom in the distance. In the top of the circle on a banner is the state motto: “Under God the People Rule.”

The 1909 flag remained the state of South Dakota’s flag until 1963. Although still a popular design, by that time legislators determined that a flag with an emblem on each side was too expensive to make. They pointed to the fact that there were few state flags in existence and they were seldom seen being flown. The 1963 legislation placed the state seal in the center of a serrated sun, thereby combining both symbols on one side of the flag. The new act left intact the 1909 flag’s status as an official state flag.

In 1992, the legislature changed South Dakota’s state flag again. It replaced the phrase “The Sunshine State” below the state seal with “The Mount Rushmore State.” In this legislation, the 1963 flag is still an official flag. Currently, the only official state nickname for South Dakota, however, is “The Mount Rushmore State.”

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