you couldn’t just print a design on a nylon flag, embroiderers painstakingly stitched designs onto silk. Embroidered flags were precious and uncommon.
Utah State History has stewardship over two of Utah’s earliest state flags. Since they are too fragile to display for long periods, you can see them in these photos.
The first was apparently made in 1903—and was probably Utah’s first-ever flag. Governor Wells had asked the Utah chapter of the Daughters of American Revolution to provide a flag for Utah to hang at the Lewis and Clark Exposition in St. Louis.
The DAR collected $1 from each of its members to pay for the flag. In April 1903, they presented the governor with “a very handsome state flag, just completed by the art department of Z.C.M.I.”—valued at $150 (Deseret News, April 25, 1903). The Z.C.M.I. embroiderer who stitched all those white stitches was Agnes Teudt Fernelius.
The governor and a delegation took this flag to St. Louis for the centennial of Lewis and Clark’s expedition in May 1903. During this trip, they also chose a site for Utah’s pavilion at the Exposition, which would take place in 1904.
However, by October of 1903, the Daughters of the American Revolution had realized that this flag didn’t match the state seal. Also, because the state legislature had not commissioned the flag, it could only be used as the Governor’s regimental flag, not as the official state flag.
They arranged for their flag to be altered to match the state seal. Presumably, as planned, this flag hung at the Lewis and Clark Exposition and at other state functions.
However, the legislature did not make this the design of the official state flag until 1911. On April 8, 1911, the Salt Lake Telegram refers to a “new Utah state flag of blue.” Whether this refers to the 1903 flag (newly designated as the state flag) or a newly stitched flag is unclear.
In 1912, the Sons and Daughters of Utah Pioneers commissioned a flag for the new battleship Utah. They ordered the flag from a company on the East Coast. This company went above and beyond—embroidering the design in color, including a gold circle around the design.
Rather than redo the flag, in 1913 the Utah Legislature changed the law to specify a flag with these colors.
By the way, this flag was framed and probably hung in the wardroom of the Utah. Very likely it went down with the ship on December 7, 1941, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor.
In 1921, New York City asked Governor Charles Mabey to loan the Utah state flag for a “parade of states.”
But Utah didn’t have a state flag at the time. So again, instead of ordering one with state funds, the governor asked if a private group could step forward and provide a flag.
The “Womans Relief Corp. Auxiliary to the G.A.R. [Grand Army of the Republic]” took the challenge. Dollie McGonegal stitched a flag for this purpose, and that flag eventually made its way to State History collections.
Sources: Beehive History 12, communication from John Hartvigsen, Deseret News 29 Apr 1921, and the flags.