What’s more American than an American flag? Turns out that maybe it’s more than you think. Like a plethora of other items, American flags can be manufactured less expensively in China than they can here. North Bay, California Congressman Mike Thompson joined other citizens in being up in arms over the concept that our soldiers were carrying foreign-made flags into battle and in honorific processions. He proceeded to write legislation that requires all flags purchased by the U.S. Department of Defense be made in America; the legislation was signed into law as part of the 2014 omnibus appropriations bill.
While many Americans think that it’s bad enough that so few of our goods are actually “made in America”, they probably had no idea that it also applied to American flags. Since 1941, the Defense Department has been banned from buying food, clothes, uniforms, fabrics, stainless steel and hand or measuring tools that are not produced in the United States. Now, flags have been added to the list.
Part of the issue, though, was that post – 9/11, the surge of patriotism in the form of American flags flying from people’s homes and cars meant that U.S. manufacturers were having a hard time keeping up with demand. The new law guarantees that the Defense Department will not be spending American tax dollars on U.S. flags made overseas.
However, this does not mean that all American flags are homegrown; the law applies only to the Defense Department. Other agencies can still buy overseas-made flags. A bill similar to Thompson’s, but calling for a ban on all overseas-made flags purchased by government agencies, did not pass. Flags purchased by the federal government do need to be made from at least 50% of American-made materials, and this applies to all flags on federal buildings. Until now, about $3.3 million worth of American flags have been imported from Beijing each year.
The law isn’t perfect, though. Like plenty of legislation, there are loopholes. One is that American flags are considered textiles. That means that flags sold online don’t have origin labels that are required under federal law. The law should make a difference, but it makes no guarantees.
Fortunately, you can still find some retailers of American flags that manufacture and sell flags on American soil. For example, Gettysburg Flag Works in upstate New York is a small company that specializes in the manufacture of flags, flagpoles and other accessories. It’s a success story of a small, local retailer that moved its business online (though it continues to maintain its brick-and-mortar roots). These kinds of companies are cheering the legislation because they are exactly the kinds of businesses that it is designed to protect. Living in a global economy is an unavoidable truth — everything from the shoes on our feet to the vegetables we eat is imported from overseas. However, the American flag… the essence, arguably, of that for which this country stands… should be something that is made by U.S. workers on American soil.