From a mountain on Iwo Jima to the surface of the moon, from atop Mount Everest to the horror of the World Trade Center, Americans and the world have seen, flown and saluted American flags made by Annin Flagmakers for over 160 years.
The world’s largest and oldest flag company and its team of 500-plus employees produce miles of stripes and a multitude of stars that go into millions of U.S. flags every year, all made with pride at manufacturing plants in Virginia and Ohio.
“Patriotism demands that an American flag has to be made in America,” says Annin President Carter Beard, who, with his cousin and Executive Vice President, Sandy Dennis Van Lieu, are the sixth generation to run the business, based in Roseland, N.J.
The firm’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, sailed under Annin-made flags.
Annin’s nephews, Edward and Benjamin, followed in their uncle’s footsteps and in 1847 founded Annin & Co., moving to a large full-service factory on New York’s Fifth Avenue.
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 a tradition that continues to this day. “We made the flag that draped Abraham Lincoln’s coffin [in 1865], something we are especially proud of,” Beard says.
Throughout the 20th century, Annin flags were prominent at world’s fairs, and historic events such as expeditions to the North and South Pole and the summit of Mount Everest. An Annin flag was the first to be raised atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima in 1945.
In 1969, Annin Flagmakers supplied American flags to NASA for use on the Apollo 11 mission to the moon when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their historic landing on the lunar surface.
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 devastation and remains of the World Trade Center.
“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.”
Annin annually produces 30 million flags of all kinds flying over every state capitol building in the nation, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and on millions of American homes.
“Perhaps the greatest reason for Annin’s success and longevity is the American people themselves,” said flag historian Whitney Smith, founder and former director of the Flag Research Center in Winchester, Mass. “America has come to regard its flag as the symbol of the country and its unity,” said Smith. “It is the thread of our national life, and Annin has been there longer than anyone.”
Image Credits: Photo courtesy of NASA.