|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 Flagmakers for nearly 160
The world's largest and oldest flag company, Annin Flagmakers
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
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
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.”
Visit www.annin.com to
Warren D. Jorgensen is a freelance writer in Tarrytown,