County Seal and Flag
The central symbol in the flag is the county seal. The seal shows paired swords over a balance, symbolizing strength and justice.
Schenectady County’s official flag is blue, white and orange – the colors of an historic battle flag in the Netherlands (the Prince's Flag), the homeland of Schenectady County’s original settlers - surrounded by four representative illustrations.
The tricolor “Prince’s Flag” came into being in 1572, as a symbol of the Low Countries’ revolt against King Phillip II of Spain, which was led by the Prince of Orange. The flag bore the colors of the Prince’s coat of arms – blue, white, and orange.
After 1630, the orange stripe was gradually replaced by a red one, as can be seen in the Netherlands’ current national flag. There are a few speculative explanations for the color change. The most probable reason is strictly visual - orange and blue are faint colors and more difficult to distinguish than red and dark blue, especially at sea. Another potential explanation is that the dyes used for the orange stripes originally consisted of natural/herbal yellow and red dyes, which tend to fade over time. The yellow faded out first, leaving a red strip in place of the orange.
The orange-white-blue flag, however, continued to be flown as well and in later times formed the basis for several flags across the Dutch Empire, including New York City, Albany, and Schenectady County.
Surrounding the seal are four illustrations.
A Steam Powered Engine (Top left). The Dewitt-Clinton was the first steam powered passenger train in America. It made its maiden voyage on August 9, 1831 between Albany and Schenectady for the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad. The Mohawk & Hudson was New York State’s first railroad and the first successful steam railroad running regularly-scheduled service.
The Schenectady Boat (Top right). Schenectady County began one of the first canal systems in the late 18th century with Philip Schuyler’s Inland Navigation System. The Canal System began in 1795 and for 30 years was a successful commercial venture. It led the way for Schenectady to become a famous boat building community, making bateaux (flat bottom boats), “Durham Boats” – larger double pointed bateaux’s, and a large cargo boat known as the “Schenectady Boat.”
Broom Corn (Bottom right). Schenectady County, in particular the city of Schenectady, Scotia, and Glenville were famous for making brooms during the 19th centuries. Schenectady County’s broomcorn industry flourished beginning in 1812 and reached its peak between 1840 and 1860. Broomcorn dominated the river flats, and a number of factories strove to meet the wide demand for the product. At one point, Schenectady was the chief center of broom- and brush-making in the United States, producing a million brooms a year.
The Lightning Bolt and Atom (Bottom left). These symbols represent the early industries of General Electric and American Locomotive. The lightning bolt is in honor of Charles Steinmetz, the electrical genius at GE until his death in 1923. He created artificial lightening, but is best known for explaining the significance of alternating current. The atom represents the first successful atomic power plant in the country designed and built by American Locomotive (ALCO) in 1957. It was the first production nuclear reactor to operate in the US for the Army at Fort Belvoir.
Over the years, as Schenectady County’s population exploded, the Board of Supervisors expanded to include fourteen wards.
In 1964, The Schenectady County Charter Commission was established, to propose major modifications to the existing County charter. In 1965, Schenectady County residents voted to abolish the former of wards, supervisors, and chairmen, and to create a home rule charter providing: an appointed County Manager; a Board of Representatives elected from districts; elected district attorney, county clerk and sheriff ; appointed medical examiner and other departments; and a clearly defined budgeting program.
On January 1, 1966, the Schenectady County Board of Representatives appointed a county manger at its organizational meeting; the next day Theodore Birbilis took the oath of office as the first Schenectady County Manager. Birbilis was the former county auditor and former finance director for the City of Schenectady.
Over the years since first enacted, Schenectady County’s Charter has undergone many amendments and modifications, as does any governing document. In 1987, The Board of Representatives became the County Legislature. The legislature was originally comprised of fifteen members, and was reduced to thirteen members in 1991 due to shrinking population. In 2001, the Legislature was restored to its present number of fifteen members.