Grand Old Flag-Maker

When Barack Obama makes history by becoming the 44th president of the United States on January 20, Annin & Company of Roseland will make history of its own.

Annin Flag employees in the "star placing" department at the company's Verona headquarters work on a 50-by-25-foot U.S. flag.
Photo by Mitsu Yasukawa/The Star-Ledger.

When Barack Obama makes history by becoming the 44th president of the United States on January 20, Annin & Company of Roseland will make history of its own.

The Essex County manufacturer is producing flags for the inauguration, continuing a company tradition that started in 1849, when Zachary Taylor was sworn in as the 12th president.

The inaugural-flag tradition “is a proud heritage for Annin,” says Randy Beard, who co-owns the company with his cousins Carter Beard and Sandy Van Lieu. Randy Beard has worked for the company for about 30 years,and represents the sixth generation of Annin-family descendants  to run the business.

Annin’s flag making has evolved significantly over the years. In Zach Taylor’s day—when the U.S. flag had only 30 stars—individual sewing machines were used to painstakingly produce each flag. Today,  technology allows a standard, 1-pound, 3-foot-by-5-foot U.S. flag to be completed in ten minutes. Annin does accept custom orders for hand-embroidered flags, a process that can take up to ten days.

Of the 30 million flags Annin annually sells to its distributors, Beard estimates 70 percent are U.S. flags. The company’s products include flags of 190 nations, as well as all 50 states and all branches of the armed forces. “We’re the official flag-maker for the United Nations and its buildings all over the world,” says Dale Coots, marketing manager for Annin, which celebrated its 160th anniversary in 2007. “United States flags are our biggest sellers,” she says. The second most popular item is the POW/MIA flag that Annin helped to design in the early 1970s.

Annin-made flags have long been a part of the nation’s triumphs and tragedies. The company provided the flag that covered President Lincoln’s casket in 1865, the flag raised on Mount Suribachi in the battle of Iwo Jima in 1945,  and the one that was planted on the moon by the Apollo astronauts in July 1969.

Originally based in New York City, the company, which has 500 employees,  opened its flagship manufacturing plant in Verona in 1918 and moved its headquarters to Roseland in 1986.

Flag sales reflect the national mood, declining during the turbulent 1960s and rising after the terrorist attacks of 2001, Coots says. “In terms of war and national tragedy, people come together and flag sales go up. It’s a way to show support,” she says.

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