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Now even Old Glory is made in China

By Leita Walker
Special to The Christian Science Monitor

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.

The United States imported $7.9 million worth of American flags in 2002, according to the Census Bureau.

“We’ve actually gotten questions from people who had 53-star flags ... and they wondered if there was a special significance to that,” said 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 also have made hundreds of thousands of flags in recent years, according to data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Treasury, and the U.S. 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, said Zheng Banglin, general manager for the firm.

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.

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.