Cook County unveils new flag designed by high school student and inspired by goddess statue from 1893 World’s Fair

After more than half a century of having a flag that was often considered forgettable, Cook County gets a new banner that features a cleaner layout that plays up the county’s history.

County officials on Tuesday unveiled their choice for the county’s new flag, which was announced on National Flag Day and is known as the “I Will Banner.”

Created by Glenbrook South High School student Drew Duffy, the new flag features a seven-sided circle of red stars on the left and a Y-shaped blue, green and white stripe on the right. Blue symbolizes the county’s rivers and Lake Michigan, green is for the county’s nature and forest preserves, and white – the color of steam locomotives – represents innovation and commerce.

The Y-shape pays homage to the merging of branches of the Chicago River at downtown Wolf Point and reflects the municipal system of the citysaid Duffy.

The flag’s name comes from a statue designed by artist Charles Holloway for the 1893 Columbian Exposition of a battle-suited goddess figure with breastplate that read “I Will”. The name “embraces the fighting spirit and go-getter attitude of the people of Cook County,” according to the flag’s description.

The six stars are each seven-pointed to represent each region of the county, plus Chicago and the forest reserves. There are six stars to represent the founding of the county in 1831; the opening of its flagship hospitals; the public health department; Forest Reserves, Arthur J Audy Home for Young Inmates; and townships and local county governments.

The red color of the stars, Duffy said, should represent the county’s bold history of “protest and progress,” including Martin Luther King Jr.’s fights for housing equality and workers’ rights to Chicago, the founding of Hull House by Jane Addams and the Jewish residents of Skokie repelling Nazi protests.

The current flag, first flown above the county building on June 13, 1961, has a white background with the words “Cook County” in red above and below a central seal. In the middle is a gold map of the county surrounded by two blue circles with 39 gold stars. The stars represent the county’s 38 townships with a slightly larger star representing the city of Chicago. This design violates what the North American Vexillological Association considers a compelling flag: easy to remember with meaningful symbolism, only a few colors, and no lettering or seals.

Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton, a flag enthusiast and NAVA member who led the county selection committee, described the current map as a “seal on a sheet, an SOB. It’s not visually striking”.

The 1961 flag was designed by county bureaucrats, including the county’s director of public relations, then-treasurer Francis Lorenz and the highway department cartographer. This time, the county invited high school students to submit designs to be judged by an advisory committee.

The county received 297 submissions after its call for a new flag in late 2019. These were narrowed down to 23 by the panel. The semi-finalists were paired with mentors to refine their submissions, which were then narrowed down to six finalists last March.

Duffy’s design began as a pen-and-ink drawing and was refined with the help of mentor Martin Burciaga, a graphic designer with the County Administration Office. Duffy, 17, has loved flags since childhood and said he reinforced the symbolism of the ‘I Will’ flag with the help of former Glenbrook South urban history teachers.

“You don’t have to put words to an artwork on a flag to show what it means because we already have so many amazing symbols,” he said.

“I Will” won the majority of votes from the selection committee after a heated debate, Britton said. Board Chairman Toni Preckwinkle agreed with the final choice.

Commissioners were expected to approve a resolution announcing the selection on Tuesday in committee and in a vote at the county council’s full meeting on Thursday. A flag-raising ceremony at Daley Plaza is scheduled for August 30.

Martha K. Merrill