Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

When Even Old Glory Is Made in China

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

When Even Old Glory Is Made in China

Article excerpt

Thirteen stripes, 50 stars, and a tiny, often unnoticed label: Made in China.

Thank heavens Betsy Ross isn't here to see it.

More than 200 years ago, the Philadelphia seamstress helped create the first American flag. Legend says she impressed Gen. George Washington by fashioning a five-pointed star with a single snip of her scissors.

Today Old Glory, like most products, has gone global. And as the flag-waving season gets under way, consumers might expect some discussion about country of origin.

Rest assured, the vast majority of American flags are still made in the good old USA. But after Sept. 11, 2001, when feelings of patriotism caused demand for flags to skyrocket, foreign manufacturers saw opportunity. Appealing to price-conscious shoppers, they outfitted thousands with hand-held flags.

The United States imported $7.9 million worth of American flags in 2002, according to the Census Bureau. Some of those flags have left consumers baffled.

"We've actually gotten questions from people who had 53-star flags ... and they wondered if there was a special significance to that," says Joyce Doody, director of membership services at the National Flag Foundation, a patriotic education association in Pittsburgh. "We presume that they were made in another country."

Most imported flags come from China - about $5 million worth last year - but Taiwan and Korea have also made hundreds of thousands in recent years, according to data from the US Department of Commerce, the US Treasury, and the US International Trade Commission.

Shanghai Flag & Tent Works, for example, exported about $1 million worth of merchandise to the United States last year, with American flags accounting for about 80 percent of the total, says Zheng Banglin, general manager for the firm, which claims to control about one-third of the Chinese-made flag market in the US.

That's not a huge amount considering American companies already turn out more than 100 million flags of all types each year. Probably less than 5 percent of American flags sold are made overseas, says Tibor Egervary, director of sales and marketing for the Valley Forge Flag Co., in Womelsdorf, Pa. The company is one of the top providers of flag products to the US government.

Yet Chinese-made American flags account for about 20 percent of American flags sold at the United States Flag Store, says Kevin Hickey, vice president of marketing for its parent company, Online Stores Inc. The United States Flag Store (www.united-states- flag.com) does about $5 million worth of business annually.

The company sells thousands of the small, vinyl flags so ubiquitous at parades and on cars. Nearly all are made overseas: The Chinese do a better job with small flags, Mr. Hickey says, while those made in America tend to fall apart.

Yet at Valley Forge, larger flags are what really matter - not those meant to last only a day or two. …

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