Why Your American Flag Might Be Less Patriotic Than You Think

July 2nd 2015

Alex Mierjeski

With the Fourth of July upon us, sales of American flags are likely to see an increase––along with other pillars of independence such as cheap meat, beer, and explosives.

But with a majority of flags sold in the U.S. exists an irony perhaps more distinctly American than the stars and stripes itself: a "Made in China" tag. According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2013, nearly $4 million worth of imported flags, most of which were made in China, were sold that year. Two years ago, Chinese-made flags accounted for 94 percent of the flags imported into the U.S.

For many, that's an incongruity that has gone unchecked for too long. In recent years, there have been marked efforts to buy more American-made American flags. Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed into law a bill requiring the state to only purchase flags made in the U.S. for public use, using "materials grown, produced and manufactured in the United States," according to the Florida House version of the "All American Flag Act."

Florida is not the only state to impose flag-buying guidelines for government entities. Last year, lawmakers passed legislation that mandated that the U.S. Department of Defense buy only those flags made in America for the military. That provision extended the 1941 Berry Amendment provision to cover flag purchases. Previously, Berry bans the DOD from buying food, clothes, military uniforms, fabrics, stainless steel, and various tools that are not made in the U.S. (with some rare exceptions), CBS News reported.

"I thought it was appalling our Department of Defense would have flags made in other countries," Mike Thompson, a Congressman from California's North Bay who authored the legislation, said at the time. "But it's also important because we need to be making more in America."

Flag sales soared in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, and that's when China stepped in as a major producer of flags to meet the sudden demand, according to the Flag Manufacturer's Association of America. In 2000, there was $747,800 worth of imported American flags in the U.S., the majority of which came from Taiwan. In 2001, that number was nearly $52 million, with a majority coming from China. In October 2001 alone, $34.8 million worth of foreign-made flags were imported, according to Census data.

Legislation requiring the federal government to purchase only American-made flags has been proposed repeatedly in recent years. In February, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) helped to introduce a federal version known as the "All-American Flag Act," which would require government-purchased flags to be 100 percent American-made. Current law requires the government to purchase flags made with at least 50 percent U.S.-made materials.

"An American flag should be entirely made in America. There are many American businesses that manufacture American flags affordably, and the federal government should spend our tax dollars on flags from these businesses, not on flags made overseas," Meng said in a statement. "We must honor our veterans and support our businesses by only purchasing American-made American flags."

"Although we in government cannot fully control where all American flags are made, we can control where American flags purchased by the United States government are made," she added.