History / Whitney Smith

In the Winter 1966–1967 issue of The Flag Bulletin, a call went out to the vexillologists of the United States and Canada, inviting them to a conference on June 3–4, 1967 at Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts. The initiative was taken by Whitney Smith, director of The Flag Research Center in Winchester, Massachusetts, with the assistance of Pierre Lux-Wurm, special advisor to the Center.

On June 3, twenty leaders in all fields of vexillology agreed to establish the North American Vexillological Association. Membership was to be “open to all interested flag-buffs in the United States and Canada” with the aim “to unite individuals in the field with fellow enthusiasts abroad by joining the International Federation of Vexillological Associations.”


President Lyndon B. Johnson greets Whitney Smith at The White House, June 21, 1966

The Association’s first formal business meeting was on November 18, 1967 at the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in Purchase, New York. Twenty-two members attended, the Association’s bylaws and flag were adopted, and the first executive board was elected: Whitney Smith, president; Pierre Lux-Wurm, vice president; Robert Gauron, corresponding secretary; Gary Grahl, recording secretary; and Thomas Hill, treasurer.

At the first meeting of the executive board on March 3, 1968, many issues were discussed, including the pronunciation on the Association’s acronym “NAVA”:

Pronunciation of NAVA– To avoid confusion, it was agreed by general consent that the abbreviation NAVA is to be pronounced with a short a.

This was also restated in the June 1968 issue of NAVA News:

The Association (whose name, according to an Executive Board decision, should be pronounced nah-vah) now has 48 members . . . .

At that first meeting, the executive board accepted a committee report that recommended incorporating the Association in the State of Illinois. Articles of incorporation were filed by Whitney Smith, Robert Gauron, and Emmit Mittlebeeler with the Illinois secretary of state on March 19, 1968.

On November 17, 1969, the United States Internal Revenue Service determined the Association to be a charitable and educational tax-exempt organization. Believing that it was important that vexillology be recognized as a social science, Dr. Smith successfully persuaded the IRS to change the Association’s section 501(c)(3) purpose to charitable, educational, and scientific.

In 1969, Dr. Smith represented the Association at the Third International Congress of Vexillology held in Boston, when it filed the first application for membership in the Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques. The Association is one of the 12 charter members of FIAV.

In  2012, the Association’s legal name was changed to “North American Vexillological Association – Association nord-américaine de vexillologie” to reflect the Association’s bi-national character.

For a more complete memoir by Dr. Smith, see “The Origins of the North American Vexillological Association.”

Dr. Whitney Smith

NAVA’s founder, Whitney Smith, died on November 17, 2016. His obituary appeared in The Flag Bulletin 234 (November 2016), as well as in international and local newspapers.

In addition to the many flags he designed for others, Dr. Smith designed his own flag in 1960, which the Association displays at the annual Whitney Smith Dinner. Flag Research Quarterly 11, The Flags of NAVA has a complete background on his flag. See full size image of his flag.