The Flag Over Kon-Tiki

Where:  The Truman Library, Independence, Missouri.  

Kon Tiki flag

Photo: Truman Library

Sometimes the back story is as good as the one we know.

In 1947, Norwegian adventurer, ethnologist and future Academy Award-winning director Thor Heyerdahl set sail across the Pacific in a small, balsawood raft that carried with it the flags and support of several nations, including the United States.  He called the raft Kon-Tiki, after an Incan sun god, and set sail that spring from Peru to the Polynesian Islands, some 4,000 miles away.

He wanted to prove that a primitive raft such as his could make the journey, and that the islands of the South Pacific could have been settled by early South American Indians travelling on similar rafts.

Upon his successful return from the expedition, President Truman invited Heyerdahl tothe White House where he presented Truman with the American flag that had flown over Kon-Tiki.  Almost as an afterthought, Truman asked if he could have the Norwegian flag as well. Heyerdahl agreed and sent the Norwegian flag later.

Now for the back story.  A number of years ago, there was a movement afloat in Norway to have Kon-Tiki’s Norwegian flag returned to Norway so that it could be placed in the expedition’s official museum in Oslo.  Heyerdahl stepped in before his death in 2002 and personally stopped the movement, maintaining that he presented it to President Truman as a token of Norwegian-American cooperation and friendship, and that the flag should remain at the Truman Library.

Call the Truman Library for hours.

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2 comments

  • Wow–two posts that resonated personally: In fourth grade, my reading group read Kon-Tiki, I loved it! Re-read my copy so often it fell apart–now own a hardcover, as well as Aku-Aku (Heyerdah’s other books were more “eh” for me). I also happen to admire Truman. So your post with its little gem of a story–one I’d never heard–was a lovely way to end my day. Thank you!

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