June 14th is Flag Day in the United States, the day Americans celebrate the day in 1777 when Congress adopted the stars and stripes as the nation’s official flag. Educators use to day to teach kids (and adults) about flag history, etiquette, and display.
Because of kind of books we write, my wife and I have met a lot of people over the years who are immersed in some facet of U.S. history. Al Cavalari is the proprietor of The Flag Guys, a company in upstate New York that makes and sells a vast quantity of flags. Today I’m sharing 2010 interview with him.
Thanks for visiting, Al. Can you tell us how and why you became a vendor of American flags?
Funny you should ask. I bet most people can not name the exact day, time and place they got into their line of work. I can. It was January 25, 1981 on Rt 207 in New Windsor, NY. That is the day that 52 Americans arrived on American soil for the first time after 444 days in Iranian captivity. Little old New Windsor, NY, was pleased and honored to have the bragging rights of being the first town in the US of A to welcome home these fellow citizens who had been taken hostage when our embassy was taken over.
I happened to be home for two weeks on a visit from Germany, where I had lived for four years after college. I worked there as a waiter, construction worker, and a nurse's aid. My father is a lawyer and after the Bicentennial in 1976 he thought it would be fun to be a flag dealer. So he became one for fun and kept a small supply of flags that he sold out of his law office. The hostages were to land at Stewart Air Base due to its proximity to West Point, where they would stay for some R and R. The President lands here also when he visits West Point.
As you can see from the photo, it was a great day for flag waving. I stood out on the street and sold stick flags. That was my start. After I returned to the US for good a couple years later, I continued to dabble in flag sales as a way to make side money. The more I worked at it, the more business I got. The more business I got, the more time it demanded. You know the drill. I still have some customers from back then.
Which flags are popular for Flag Day these days? Is it is the 50-star flag, or are there other ones that are popular with Americans?
The most popular category is of course 50-star flags of all types. Below that, I bet it is a toss up between military and historic flags with maybe historic flags having the edge. Historic flags are a real niche for The Flag Guys. The Gadsden flag has really taken off the last couple of years due to its popularity among the Tea Party folks. Many people even call it "The Tea Party Flag" because they are unaware of its existence as a Revolutionary War flag from 1775.
It was through my flag business that I became an ardent history buff. Early on, I became interested in The War Between The States from my customers who are reenactors. From there, I got deeper and deeper into all American history to the extent that I am working on a quest to visit the birthplace, home, and grave of every US President and Signer. I can't get enough, especially of our founding period, and intend one day to live in Philadelphia, where I go now quite a bit.
Do some Americans need to be reminded it is Flag Day?
Yes. When I was growing up, this holiday was not on our radar all that much. I have noticed more of an awareness of this day over the last 5 years or so. Locally, a town clerk has made it a cause and the paper editorializes about it. I like the notion that it is a day all about honoring and respecting our flag. The Elks have always been very involved in Flag Day. They do wonderful programs around it.
Because of my New Jersey background, I'm biased in favor of the flag designed by Declaration Signer and New Jerseyan Francis Hopkinson. Can you tell us briefly how you came to sell this flag? Is it a popular seller?
The credit goes to Earl Williams, a fellow member of the North American Vexillological Association, an organization made up of flag scholars and enthusiasts. My connection to Earl and the story of my producing The Hopkinson Flag really began with our mutual involvement with NAVA. I tell the story of Earl and the Hopkinson flag here. Back in the early nineties, he contacted us with the suggestion that we produce this flag. Like most people, I had never heard of Francis Hopkinson. Earl had done a great deal of research about him and his involvement with the creation of our flag. Over many months, Earl gradually made me see that the story is compelling and that a version of what could have been Hopkinson's flag deserved to be offered. Early on in my business, I took suggestions for new and interesting flags seriously and still do. Many of the historical flags I offer have come from requests. So I took a chance and produced a batch. It is a popular flag, though I would not say it is a widespread seller. It does have a devoted following, including a Hopkinson descendant.
How can Americans learn more about how to display and care for their flag?
The flag questions we get come in two categories. One is flag etiquette. I really appreciate it when people care enough to want to do right by Old Glory. Every professional flag dealer I know provides that kind of information. I have an extensive flag etiquette page that deals with all kinds of flag questions that folks ask me. The other category I always get questions about is what I call "tech support." How do I install this? Or how do I attach a flag to a pole? That kind of thing. For those issues, I recommend you check out my "how to page."
By the way, just so you know, I’ll be flying my Hopkinson flag today. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you a million for asking me. I've enjoyed it!
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