America's Flag Maker

by Warren D. Jorgensen

From a mountain on Iwo Jima to the surface of the moon, from exotic ports of call to the North and South poles, from atop Mount Everest to the rubble of the World Trade Center, Americans and the world have seen, flown and saluted U.S. flags made by Annin & Co. for nearly 160 years.

The world's largest and oldest flag company, Annin & Co. and its 500 employees produce literally miles of stripes and a multitude of stars that go into 15 million U.S. flags a year. All are made in the U.S.A.—at manufacturing plants in Verona, N.J. (pop. 13,533), South Boston, Va. (pop, 8,491), and Coshocton, Ohio (pop. 11,682).

"Patriotism demands that an American flag has to be made in America,” says Carter Beard, who with his cousin, Randy, represent the sixth generation to help run the business, based in Roseland, N.J. (pop. 5,298). "We hire the best workers, train them and give them the best machines, and from that we get the highest quality flag.”

The company's roots go back to 1820, when Alexander Annin opened a small flag-making shop on the New York City waterfront, where ships bound for the four corners of the world did so under Annin-made flags. Annin's sons, Edward and Benjamin, followed in their father's footsteps and in 1847 founded Annin & Co., moving to a large full-service factory on New York's Fifth Avenue. The company enjoyed success from the start, especially with its American flags.

Woven into American history

In many ways, the company's story is interwoven with the story of America itself.

In 1849, Annin-made American flags were flown at the inauguration of President Zachary Taylor, starting an inaugural tradition that has continued through the inauguration of President George W. Bush.

"We made the flag that draped Abraham Lincoln's coffin (in 1865), something we are especially proud of,” Beard says.

By the close of the 19th century, regard for the Annins' product had spread, and the company's flags were hoisted at foreign expositions, world's fairs and at the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883.

Exploration and involvement in world affairs consumed America during the 20th century, and Annin was there. The company's flags were planted as symbols of success during Commander Robert E. Peary's expedition to the North Pole in 1909, Admiral Richard E. Byrd's expedition to the South Pole in 1930 and the National Geographic expedition to Mount Everest in 1963. It was an Annin-made flag that Marines raised atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in 1945, memorialized in a classic Associated Press photograph.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and "Buzz” Aldrin stepped out from the Lunar Module and planted an Annin-made U.S. flag on the moon's surface, where it remains today. "We were a supplier to NASA . . . We officially submitted flags to NASA for the moon missions, and ours was picked,” says Beard, who was age 4 at the time.

The world's largest American flag—104 feet by 235 feet—was made by Annin for the J.L. Hudson Co. in Detroit in 1949 and was retired in 1976 to the Smithsonian Institution. It was Annin artist Newt Heisley who designed the POW/MIA flag, which was never copyrighted because the company decided the patriotic symbol belonged to all Americans.

Perhaps the nation's most recent memory of an Annin-made flag came after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, when firemen raced to a nearby marina and grabbed a ship's American flag to raise over the rubble of the World Trade Center. The photographed moment became the iconic image of that tragic day. "Everyone here was extremely proud that it was an Annin flag,” says Beard, his voice mixed with pride and regret. "It was an emotional sight to see that flag being raised.”

Flag maker to the world

Annin annually produces 30 million flags of all kinds. The company has made state flags that fly over every state Capitol in the nation, and appear in every parade where the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars or Boy Scouts participate. As the official flag maker to the United Nations, Annin manufactures each flag waving in front of the U.N. headquarters in New York City.

Despite technological advances, the Verona plant, built in 1916, remains the heart and soul of the company, where custom-made flags—American, state and any one of thousands of custom designs—are crafted by hand. There, seamstresses carefully sew stars and stripes, while highly trained embroiderers create meticulously detailed flag designs with foot-operated sewing machines. It's a slow learning curve, where training an embroiderer can take up to four years.

"I'm very proud of what we do here,” says Plant Manager Joe Vallone, as he watches workers fold a custom-made 30-by-60-foot American flag that took four workers 10 days to create. "There are machines that can do similar work,” he says, "but nothing like what you'll see when they're made by hand.”

Elisa Vaca, 61, of Bloomfield, N.J. (pop. 47,683), began working as a seamstress for Annin 35 years ago. Her pride and joy is a 60-by-90-foot American flag that often hangs from the George Washington Bridge between New York and New Jersey. It is only displayed on special occasions and retracts into the bridge tower when not in use.

"I take my brother (to the bridge) to see it, and I tell him, ‘See, I made that,'” Vaca says. "It was so big, and up there it looked so small. I am very proud.”

Red, white and blue

While standard American flags are sold in volume through the large chain stores, Annin's continued success lies in its nationwide network of more than 2,000 mom-and-pop flag shops, such as The Flag Lady in Columbus, Ohio.

"My mother said that Annin made the best-looking, longest-lasting American flags,” says Lori Watson, 47, who runs the Ohio flag shop started by her mother more than 30 years ago. "We made the choice to only sell Annin flags, and we've never been sorry that we did. We swear by their quality.”

But perhaps the greatest reason for Annin's success and longevity is the American people themselves, says flag historian Whitney Smith, founder and director of The Flag Research Center in Winchester, Mass. (pop. 20,810)

"Unlike the countries they came from, Americans have no national, racial, religious or aristocratic identity,” Smith says. "They came to regard the flag as embodying the symbolism of the country and its unity. It is the thread of our national life, and Annin has been there longer than anyone else.”

American Flag

Why America needs laws against flag burning.

An argument from someone who really doesn't care.

The American flag is the fabric of your nation. The cloth of the land, that simple 3 coloured polyester rectangle, has been fought for by millions of people. They weren't fighting for liberty and free speech in WWI, WWII, Vietnam - they were fighting for the flag that many of them were buried in. And yet, some people in your country enjoy burning it. The freedom to defend the flag from desecration by its enemies has been cruely removed - a final irony for the flag of freedom (for White Americans that is - when black people in the South talked of the `Old Flag of Freedom`, they were talking about the Union Jack).

Weak minded liberals might argue that burning the flag is a form of free speech, but this is so much nonsense. There have always been bounds on free speech. The best known example is that it is illegal to shout `fire` in a crowded theatre. It is also illegal to libel people with unproven allegations.

Those who burn the Stars & Stripes are guilty of the equivalent of both these acts. It is irresponsible to wantonly incinerate something that stands for freedom in a very real sense - and can give quite the wrong impression. This is the equivalent of shouting `fire` in a place you know fine well is safe from conflageration. Also, it is an act of heinous libel. How can one defend attacking the basis of our free speech, the flag, and accusing it of gross acts without proof? The flag stands for free speech and equality of men. It is a symbol, and as such can never be wrong. To burn it, then, is an act of libel - one is libelling universal truths, rights and principles with terrible actions. That flag can never commit these acts - it is impossible.

The flag is much more than this though. The flag is the nation incarnate. To burn the flag is to burn one's family, one's leaders, one's people. Anyone who can even contemplate such an act is surely barbarous and mad. When America was founded by Thomas Jefferson, he rightfull saw that Americans should have the freedom to defend their flag. The Supreme Court, whupping boys of the liberal elite, overuled this in 1989. Never such treachery has been commited on American soil.

Now, I am British, so I don't have a personal stake in this. If anyone suggested that flag burning laws be introduced in my Kingdom, I would rightfully damn their traitorous arses to Newcastle and back. Britain has no need of laws against flag burning. However, America most certainly does.

America has no Monarchy. With this terrible absence, there is no real symbolic head of your nation. Sure, the president may be said to fulfil this role, but he is partisan. It already seems rather primitive to British eyes that you treat him like royalty (it is always a `him`), put him on your coinage, grovel to him (yes SIR Mr President Sir!), shack him up in a palace (compared to the simple two-up two-down our PM has) and generally invest him with the mythical qualities which we British, in our wisdom, keep for someone with no power - the Monarch. Of course Americans have tried to get round this rather primitive situation by elevating the flag almost to position of Monarch.

Nary anywhere can you go in your country without the flag sticking up its ugly, starred (ugh) fabric. The schools, classrooms, police stations, town centres, hospitals, businesses - it is impossible to turn away from it, to spend a day without being forced to see it. In Britain the old Union Jack, whilst fondly regarded by a proud, fierce people, is not elevated to this obscene extent. We have no need.

America is a land of immigrants. As such, it was founded by people from all over Europe and the world who shared no common history or culture. America is not bound together by the love of fellow man, like Britain is. Britain has a strong identity, forged over thousands of years living through Empires, civil wars, three world wars, plagues and famines. It has done all this with remarkable stability and endurance - that Britain has never had a successful revolution upon its soil shows how stable a nation it is. It gets this stability from a love of the Monarch, and more importantly a love of one's fellow Britons (important in a small, cramped country). We have no need of a written constitution; the unwritten constitution arrived at through millennia of shared experience and tradition does the job far better. What is important in Britain is not symbols, but the shared body of our culture and traditions, the values that every Briton holds dear to his or her breast.

Only new nations need constitutions, nations like America. With its disparate, alienated populace, the wasp's in charge of America at its founding had to find some simple things that these grubby illiterates would understand and hold dear. Hence the rather obscene importance of the flag and constitution. Really very simple ideas, ones which the whole of America can easily grasp. The flag and constitution, a piece of cloth and a sheet of paper, are the binding that keeps America from falling apart.

To brook their being burned is to put the USA in extreme jeapordy. If these simple little icons are allowed to be treated any old way, truly nothing will be left holding your country together.

I urge you Americans to make burning the flag and disrespecting the constitution acts of treason. This may seem harsh, but really it is the only way you can keep your nation together.

You must write to your local Congressmen and Senators in support of the latest bill which is to appear before the house to amend the constitution.

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