Flag Day Finds Flag Sales Rising

Posted: June 14, 2000

Under the whir of eight metallic Singer sewing machines, Kathy Keeley meticulously put needle to nylon and began to stitch a 50th one-foot-wide star on the blue fabric.

Though she spends almost 60 hours a week at the Humphrys Flag Co. factory in Pottstown, Montgomery County, Keeley finds the work still piling up for herself and a dozen other seamstresses.

At Humphrys, a Philadelphia-based manufacturer that sends custom flags all over the world, orders of American flags are on the rise. Today is Flag Day, true, but that is not the reason it is a grand old time to be in the flag business. The reason is the orders coming in from merchants preparing to wave Old Glory during the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to begin July 31.

"The employees are working day and night, sometimes pulling weekend shifts, to get all our other work done," said Humphrys president Tim O'Connor, who sells 30-by-50-foot flags for $1,000 apiece.

Each flag takes about 20 hours to make. In the past, Humphrys would sew one large American flag a month. These days, the number is six or seven a month.

By the time the GOP convenes in Philadelphia, O'Connor said, Humphrys might have sewn more American flags in seven months than in the previous four years.

The convention has made area businesses look at their flags and wonder whether they should buy bigger, better banners to display once the Republicans come to town.

"Maybe their flag will be a little tattered," O'Connor said. "They want to look their best for the country. So why not get another flag?"

The idea of displaying the flag to show civic and national pride is nothing new. Stacy Hollander, senior curator for the Museum of American Folk Art in New York, said flag displays had been popular since 1777, when the Continental Congress adopted the stars-and-stripes pattern.

"There's definitely deeply felt emotion that's connected to our flag," Hollander said. "It's just beautiful to look at. When someone uses it, they want to make a statement. It's not something that's taken lightly, and that's why it's so popular."

The flag is about as enduring a symbol of the United States as can be found. It is only a year younger than the Declaration of Independence and more than a decade older than the Constitution.

Flag Day was first celebrated in 1877, Old Glory's centennial. After that, many citizens and organizations advocated the adoption of a national day of commemoration for the flag. But not until 1949 did the president, Harry S. Truman, sign legislation making Flag Day a day of national observance.

According to officials at Annin & Co. in Roseland, N.J., flag sales have been high for months now and are expected to increase in a few weeks, thanks to last-minute shoppers from Philadelphia. Annin, which bills itself as the largest flag manufacturer in the United States, sells millions of American flags each year.

"We might be around 10 percent higher in sales, and they might go higher," spokesman Randy Beard said. "Sales are always strong at this time of year, with Flag Day, the Fourth of July, and now the convention."

At Collegeville Flag & Banner, officials said the company might produce 50,000 miniflags in one day because of the convention but declined to discuss sales or manufacturing matters publicly.

For Humphrys and other small manufacturers, however, the high demand can have a downside.

"There might be a time when we have to say, 'Stop. We can't keep up,' " O'Connor said. "You still have to keep up with all the orders that are coming in from other people who don't want an American flag."

Yesterday, among the customized banners and torn cloth on the Pottstown plant's floor, Keeley and three fellow employees worked on an American flag for a Cadillac dealer. The flag will take two days to finish. "It's very long, tough hours," said Keeley, looking up briefly.

Piled nearby sat 50 feet of red and white nylon, just waiting to be sewn to a field of stars.

Robert Sanchez's e-mail address is rsanchez@phillynews.com

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