Oct. 6, 2001, 8:23PM
By DAVID VOREACOS
Bloomberg Business News
OAKS, Pa. -- Red and white fabric streamed from 150-yard
rolls into Jean Younkin's high-speed sewing machine, one
of dozens on the factory floor stitching stripes for American
flags at Annin Flagmakers
Younkin reflected on how the Sept. 11 terror attacks gave
new meaning to her job at the oldest and largest U.S. flag
maker. "I feel like I'm helping provide for people so that
they can show their patriotism," she said. "I'm proud to
The national outpouring of patriotism has prompted Americans
to snap up flags for their homes, cars and businesses at
a pace that has strained Annin's capacity. Younkin and her
675 co-workers at the closely held company have boosted output
of 3-by-5-foot U.S. flags, the company's most popular model,
from 30,000 to 100,000 a week.
"Our demand has skyrocketed," said Randy Beard, vice president
of corporate sales. "We're proud to be making America's symbol,
and we just want to make as many as we can. But it's very
frustrating because it seems like everyone wants one at the
Orders for Annin's star-spangled banners began pouring in,
by phone, fax and mail, after hijacked planes struck the
Pentagon and the World Trade Center, Beard said. The demand
shows no signs of letting up, he said.
Annin, based in Roseland, N.J., has stretched workdays at
Oaks to 10 hours from eight and expanded production to include
Saturdays. It's added entire shifts at some of its other
The Coshocton, Ohio, factory is running 16 hours a day and
one in South Boston, Va., operates on a 20-hour production
cycle. The plant in Orange, N.J., works around the clock.
Annin's factory in Verona, N.J., has added more workers,
but not enough to run a second shift, Beard said.
Annin makes 5,000 different flags, including one for each
of the 50 U.S. states and for more than 200 countries. For
now, the company is focusing almost all its production capacity
on the Stars and Stripes.
Annin's 2,000 U.S. dealers must wait 15 weeks for delivery
of the best-selling 3-by-5-foot flags, Beard said. Despite
the clamor, Annin has refused to boost prices to fatten profits,
said Dan Dreher, manager of the Oaks plant.
"We're in it for the long haul," Dreher said. "We're not
in it to make a quick buck and get out. We're producing the
same quality flag at the same price."
Dreher said the Oaks plant would rather pay overtime to
experienced workers than hire new ones to meet the current
Annin flags come in nylon, cotton and polyester, and range
in size from 3-by-5 inches to 30-by-60 feet. Most of the
company's production capacity is devoted to the 3-by-5-foot
and 4-by-6-foot models favored by homeowners.
The last time Americans showed a similar zeal for flag-waving
was in 1991 during the Gulf War when demand spiked, then
dropped off immediately after U.S. ground troops defeated
Iraq, Beard said. With the U.S. response to the recent terrorist
attacks unclear, Annin wouldn't predict how long the company
will be working overtime to fill orders.
"Last time, we had an enemy that was identifiable, and we
took charge pretty quickly," Beard said. "Now, who knows?
It's a whole different war."
Annin started out in the 1820s in a loft in lower Manhattan,
making signal flags for sailing ships, according to the company's
Web site. It was incorporated in 1847, and Annin flags have
borne witness to a lot of American history ever since.
They draped the coffins of slain presidents Abraham Lincoln
and John F. Kennedy. Annin flags have flown at every presidential
inauguration since Zachary Taylor's in 1849.
And when U.S. astronauts planted a flag on the moon, it
was one made by Annin.
The company also makes nautical and religious flags, and
historical ones to commemorate famous battles.
Annin left New York in 1914 and moved to New Jersey, where
it opened a plant in Verona. It later added another New Jersey
production facility, in Orange, and one in Coshocton, Ohio.
In 1998, Annin bought out its leading competitor, Dettra
Inc., acquiring the plants in Oaks and South Boston, Va.,
and a distribution center in Redwood City, Calif.
Beard says Annin has about a dozen U.S. competitors, but
has retained its position as the market leader. The company
doesn't release revenue or earnings figures, he said, noting
only that Annin sells "in the millions" of flags annually.
Gerry Miller, 59, has worked at the Oaks plant for 13 years,
for both Dettra and Annin. Using ordinary scissors, she cuts
out fields of white stars embroidered on giant rolls of blue
fabric. Miller says she can cut 400 fields of 50 stars each
in 75 minutes.
She said the terror attacks have had a far greater impact
on her and her co-workers than the Gulf War did.
"A lot of us felt safe and secure before, but now I have
my doubts," she said. "It's the United States that was attacked.
These days, Miller said, Annin employees take a special
pride in their work.
"We all feel patriotic," she said. "This is the way we can
do our part."