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Sewing the Stars and Stripes: Ohio’s tie to the American flag

A woman lifts the red and white stripes of an American flag from a pile of fabric, ready to sew it together with a field of blue stars.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
A worker in Annin Flagmakers' Coshocton factory sews together the stars and stripes of American flag. The factory produces more than 3 million full-size American flags each year.

Americans celebrate Independence Day with parade floats decked out in red, white and blue, hot dogs fresh off the grill, and sparkler streaked sketches into the summer night.

But perhaps no symbol is more iconic of Fourth of July festivities than the American flag itself.

The national emblem flies all over the world, but many started from strips of fabric at a warehouse in a small Ohio city.

Making American flags

When Director of Operations Bobbi Parks opens a set of double doors to Annin Flagmakers’ Coshocton factory, the space comes alive with the sounds of humming sewing machines.

“All the way down through here are our sewing cells,” she said, walking past workers stitching together ribbons of red and white fabric from 500-yard spools.

“This here is our stripe department.”

Flag makers sew stripes together in sets of sixes and sevens. One set attaches to a blue field filled with 50 white stars. The other connects underneath, tying the banner together.

“There's a sense of pride in what we do,” said flag maker Jonna Smith. “You go down the street and see them hanging on the poles, and you’re like, ‘Hey, I probably made that.’”

With 12 years under her belt, Smith is one of the factory’s newer hires. Many of her coworkers have been here upwards of two, three, even four decades.

But Annin Flagmakers has been in business long before them.

A history of Annin Flagmakers

The company started in 1847 in New York City, when two young entrepreneurs took over their father’s business. Instead of continuing the ship chandlery, Edward and Benjamin Annin — who were just 15 and 13 at the time — decided to focus on 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.

Since then, the company has made some iconic banners: the flag draped over Abraham Lincoln’s casket, the flag raised by U.S. Marines at Iwo Jima, the flag on the moon and the flags at every presidential inauguration since Zachary Taylor.

Annin Flagmakers expanded to Coshocton nearly 50 years ago. It’s now one of three factories in the county. Two others in Virginia embroider stars and print state and custom flags, while the 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.

“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,” she said.

It was a time when patriotism was fervent.

“I mean, everybody flew a flag,” she said.

These days, demand isn’t quite what it was post-9/11, but it’s still high. Workers at the Coshocton factory alone make upwards of 50,000 flags a week during peak season, Parks said.

So if you’re raising a flag this Fourth of July or waving one in the neighborhood parade, it just might be made right here in Ohio.

Erin Gottsacker is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently reported for WXPR Public Radio in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.