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Making the American flag at the oldest and largest flag manufacturer in the U.S.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Americans will celebrate Independence Day tomorrow. And whether you're going to a parade, eating barbecue at a cookout or watching fireworks, chances are there will be an American flag nearby to mark the occasion. The Ohio Newsrooms' Erin Gottsacker reports on how the symbol of national identity is stitched together in Ohio.

ERIN GOTTSACKER, BYLINE: A half dozen flags wave in a sticky summer breeze outside a factory in Coshocton, a small city about 60 miles east of Columbus, Ohio's capital. They're just a small number of the thousands that are being made inside.

BOBBI PARKS: Come on in.

GOTTSACKER: Bobbi Parks is the director of operations of Annin Flagmakers' Coshocton factory. She opens a set of double doors.

PARKS: Let's go down to our sewing cells.

GOTTSACKER: And the space comes alive with the sounds of humming sewing machines.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINES CHITTERING)

GOTTSACKER: Flag makers stitch together ribbons of red and white fabric from 500-yard spools.

PARKS: What they'll start is they'll add a pair. And then that pair goes up until you make your seven and your six that goes on the top and the bottom of the flag for your stripes.

GOTTSACKER: Then they'll attach these stripes to a blue field filled with 50 white stars. And after a little more hemming and snipping...

(SOUNDBITE OF SCISSORS CUTTING)

GOTTSACKER: The star-spangled banner is complete.

JONNA SMITH: There's a sense of pride in what we do.

GOTTSACKER: That's Jonna Smith.

SMITH: You can go down the street and see them hanging on the poles or whatever - or, you know, display. And you'd be like, hey, I probably made that (laughter).

GOTTSACKER: With 12 years under her belt, she's one of the factory's newer hires. Annin Flagmakers has been in business for nearly two centuries. The company started in 1847 in New York City, when two young entrepreneurs took over their father's business. Instead of continuing as ship retailers, Edward and Benjamin Annin, who were just 15 and 13 at the time, decided to sell flags. They got the business started just in time to supply American flags to the army during the Mexican-American War, and later the Civil War. The company is now the oldest and largest flag manufacturer in the country. And it's made some pretty iconic banners - from the flag raised by U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's one of the enduring images of World War II.

GOTTSACKER: ...To the flag on the moon.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WALTER CRONKITE: There it is, a U.S. flag on the surface of the moon.

GOTTSACKER: And the flags at every presidential inauguration since 1849. Annin Flagmakers expanded to Coshocton about 50 years ago. It's now one of three factories in the country. Two others in Virginia embroider stars and print state and custom flags, while this Coshocton facility focuses mainly on producing American flags.

After terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on 9/11, workers at this location pieced together the red, white and blue. Production manager Kelly Watson remembers demand for flags was so high, the factory could hardly keep up.

KELLY WATSON: We had truck drivers that sat outside for, like, two, three hours waiting on the women to sew so they could take off with finished flags.

GOTTSACKER: She says it was a time when patriotism was fervent.

WATSON: I mean, everybody flew a flag.

GOTTSACKER: But demand is still high today. Workers at the Coshocton factory alone make upwards of 50,000 flags a week during peak season. So if you're raising a flag this Fourth of July or waving one in the neighborhood parade, it just might've come from one of the oldest flag makers around.

For NPR News, I'm Erin Gottsacker in Coshocton, Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Erin Gottsacker