A paperfolding paradise
The website of writer and paperfolding designer David Mitchell
|The Fold and One Cut Pentagram / Five-Pointed Star / Betsy Ross Star|
page attempts to record what is known about the origin
and history of the origami design known variously as the
Fold and One Cut Pentagram or Five-Pointed Star or the
Betsy Ross Star. Please contact me if you know any of
this information is incorrect or if you have any other
information that should be added. Thank you.
As far as I know the first mention of this design is in a paper read by William J. Canby to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in March 1870 entitled 'The History of the Flag of the United States'. In this paper William Canby which includes a story told to him by Mrs Clarissa S Wilson the daughter of Elizabeth Claypoole, also known as Betsy Ross, which tells how she was visited one day by George Washington and showed her a drawing of a proposal for a new version of the United States flag which included a number of six-pointed stars. William canby states, 'Mrs Ross at once said that this was wrong; the stars should be five pointed; they were aware of that, but thought there would be some difficulty in making a five pointed star. "Nothing easier" was her prompt reply and folding a piece of paper in the proper manner, with one clip of her ready scissors she quickly displayed to their astonished vision the five pointed star; which accordingly took its place in the national standard.' The year this alleged visit took place is not given in the document but is generally given in nother sources as 1776. The full text of this document can be found at https://web.archive.org/web/20150220070301/http://www.ushistory.org/betsy/more/canby.htm
The story is now generally believed to be apocryphal as there is no corroborating evidence from contemporary sources. However, the existence of the Fold and Cut Pentagram design in 1870 is clearly established by this source.
Rachel Fletcher, another daughter of Betsy Ross, signed an affidavit on July 31st 1871 corroborating many of the details of William Canby's version of events. This affidavit does not however mention Betsy Ross cutting a five-pointed star from paper.
The whole story, including mention of the Fold and One Cut Pentagram, was subsequently published as historical fact in an article entitled 'National Standards and Emblems' in Harper's New Monthly Magazine in 1873 and, according to https://www.history.com/news/did-betsy-ross-really-make-the-first-american-flag 'soon became part of the United States history curriculum taught to millions of elementary-aged school children every year.'
The Fold and One Cut Pentagram, made from a square, appears in Volume 3 of 'La Science Amusante' by Tom Tit (real name Arthur Good) which was published in Paris by Librairie Larousse in 1894. Each volume of 'La Science Amusante' is a collection of articles, mainly of scientific experiments using everyday objects, which had been previously published in the French magazine L'Illustration. I do not know the dates on which each of the articles was originally published.
The same design occurs in 'Le Livre des Amusettes' by Toto, published in Paris by Charles Mendel in 1899.
Diagrams for this design also appear at an early date in:
'Houdini's Paper Magic', published by E P Dutton and Company of New York in 1922.
'Fun with Paperfolding' by Rigney and Murray, published by the Fleming H Revell Company, New York in 1928.
'Diversions and Pastimes' by R M Abraham, published by Constable and Constable in 1933.
A picture of Betsy Ross cutting out a five-pointed star for George Washington (seated left) and others was painted by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (1863 1930) as part of his patriotic 'Pageant of a Nation' series. I do not know the date this particular picture was painted. It is, however, clear from the detail that the artist did not know how this feat could be achieved with just a single cut.
According to an article 'Betsy Ross Revisited: General Fold and One-Cut Regular and Star Polygons' by Arnold Tubis and Crystal Elaine Mills in Origami 5: The Fifth International Meerting of Origami, Science, Mathematics and Education, a partially cut pentagram folded from a piece of 8" x 5" paper was shown in 1963 to the Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Flag Day association by Reeves Wetherill. He claimed that this artifact had been found by his father in 1922 when an old safe belonging to a previous member of the family had been opened. The writing on this artifact says, 'H C Wilson Betsey Ross Pattern for Stars', H C Wilson possibly referring to Betsy Ross's daughter Clarissa Claypoole Wilson.
So far as I know no effort to date this artifact scientifically has been made.