Detroit City Flag

Designed by David Heineman in 1907


The flag of the city of Detroit was designed by David Heineman in 1907.  Heineman, born in Detroit on October 17, 1865, was the son of Emil and Fanny Butzel Heineman, prominent Jewish Detroiters who ran a clothing store within Detroit’s Russell House on Campus Martius. After graduating from Detroit High School in 1883, David Heineman would become an attorney and serve as a civic leader for years. Heineman also designed the Belle Isle Aquarium, which opened to the public in 1903. 

The flag was flown for the first time on June 12, 1908 but did not become the official flag of Detroit until 1948.  The flag features many symbols beginning at the center with an oval-shaped field containing an image of the city seal (designed by artist J.O. Lewis in 1827 which represents the 1805 fire, and subsequent rebuilding). The seal also owes part of its lineage to Father Gabriel Richard, who, following the fire, wrote the included Latin motto, “speramus meliora; resurget cineribus,” or “we hope for better things; it will rise from the ashes”. Heineman surrounded the seal with four fields representing the kingdoms and nations which have claimed the city during its history: five fleurs-de-lis representing France under the House of Bourbon; three lions representing Great Britain who held the city from 1760 to 1796, and again during the War of 1812 from 1812 to 1813; 13 stars to represent the colonies and 13 stripes to honor the war of 1812.  


A historical marker, located at the Detroit Historical Museum, honors the creation of the Detroit Flag. The marker reads:


"THE DETROIT FLAG: The official flag of the City of Detroit was designed in 1907 by David Emil Heineman, President of the Detroit Common Council, prominent civic leader and first historiographer of Michigan Jewry.

Mr. Heineman’s design reflected important phases in Detroit’s long and exciting history and included the city’s seal and motto.  This design was later incorporated in the beautiful stained glass window which was located above the rostrum of the council chamber in Detroit’s old city hall.

This window now stands above the entrance to the Detroit Historical Museum as a memorial commemorating David E. Heineman’s many contributions to Detroit’s heritage.”

Learn More: Detroit, David Heineman, Fanny and Emil Heineman, Belle Isle Aquarium

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