Machine-Made “Stars and Stripes” Replace the Flags of Betsy Ross’ Day (Jan, 1924)

Machine-Made “Stars and Stripes” Replace the Flags of Betsy Ross’ Day

Uncle Sam’s Factory Turns Out Nation’s Colors

IT is a far cry from the handmade flag of Betsy Ross to the production of flags by machinery, and yet the cradle of the “Stars and Stripes” has remained in Philadelphia since the symbol of our nation was born there 145 years ago. The traditional scene of this woman patriot patiently fingering the colors of a new nation, has shifted to the operation of scores of machines, increasing production a thousandfold.

Yet, Uncle Sam’s flag factory is maintained in the Quaker City, as a branch of the War Department, charged with the responsibility of making all the flags used by the army. This obligation involves the manufacture of a variety of forms of the Stars and Stripes, and storm flags. There, are also made automobile, distinguishing, and transport flags, and ensigns, harbor-boat “jacks,” and pennants, together with guidons in vast assortments.

The making of “Old Glory” in great quantities and in response to the dictates of economy is of comparatively recent origin. Progress in this direction has marked time with the development of the needle-machine industry. Not unlike Betsy Ross, who fashioned the national emblem with her fingers, not so very long ago an entire flag was constructed by a single operator. Today, the task is allotted to 13 units of operation. Each worker in Uncle Sam’s flag factory is assigned the task of contributing a definite bit of workmanship, these progressive units making for a finished product.

Bunting—a thin woolen stuff used primarily for making flags—is painstakingly inspected before being issued to the machines. It is placed one ply upon another and divided into specified lengths until a section 100-ply high is available. Then the material is marked and subjected to an electrically driven cutting machine, which parcels the bunting into strips of two sizes, these entering into the manufacture of the stars and stripes. The procedure followed with the blue bunting for the field is not dissimilar to that of cutting the long and short red and white stripes. The elasticity of the material involves the exercise of utmost care in the laying out and separating of it, lest precision be sacrificed, as accuracy is necessary in joining the stripes on sewing machines. Stars are made by cutting them out with a steel die on a stamping machine. This insures maximum production and uniformity in size and shape. The canvas heading on the flag is fashioned in a similar manner. After the cutters have performed their work,the different parts of the potential Old Glory are bundled together and consigned to the operating room. The short stripes are joined together, alternately red and white, on a double-needle sewing machine, which negotiates two rows of stitching at the same time. In like fashion the long stripes are joined and the field is made. The blue fabric is placed on a table, all wrinkles removed, and the correct position of the stars indicated on each field by a perforated pattern. After being subjected to a squaring process it is cut to exact dimensions. A piece of white percale is fastened on the underside of the field, and a star placed in the same position on the upper side. This insures three thicknesses of cloth. The operator then sews cautiously around the edge of the star with a zigzag machine. Once the stars have been fastened on the field, a trimmer cuts off any excess percale on the underside.

The blue ground and short stripes are then united and both are joined to the long stripes. Then, the flag is smoothed out again on a table, and squared and cut to precise dimensions. The fly end is turned in and hemmed with three rows of stitching. The other end is reinforced at each corner with a triangular strip of bunting and stitched into a canvas heading. It is strengthened by means of a heavy stitching, and each flag is equipped with a galvanized iron staple and ring for hitching to the halyard, the rope or tackle by which it is raised and lowered on the mast. The completed national emblem then undergoes a rigid inspection and, if approved, is folded and consigned to supply headquarters for disposition. Stars, contrary to the hand-fashioned articles of Betsy Ross, are manufactured of solid embroidery silk on a machine. The blue-silk fields are placed in frames on this mechanism, which is capable of producing a stitch not unlike hand embroidery—that is, both sides are alike. This machine, provided with numerous needles, all threaded with white silk, perforates the field, back and forth, thus laying out the design for the embroidery stitching.

National colors are carried by unmounted troops, and standards by mounted military units. The inconsequential distinction between the two is that the standards are not as large as the colors and do not possess cords and tassels. The colors are four feet four inches at the hoist (top to bottom), and five feet six inches at the fly, which is the length stripeways.

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