American flags manufactured in Scranton
SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — Betsy Ross would be impressed by this operation.
Since 2016, the staff at North American Manufacturing on Barring Avenue has meticulously produced about 8,000 full-size American flags each year, which are sold to the Defense Logistics Agency and awarded to government retirees.
The military-grade flags are durable, made from lightweight, high-tenacity nylon that is moisture- and chemical-resistant. Every stitch meets government specifications, a company official said.
On a recent morning, the hum of industrial sewing machines filled the plant as workers carefully cut and sewed the red, white and blue materials with like-colored threads. In about 30 minutes, the nylon and thread is transformed into the Stars and Stripes.
The process, says Greg Stanton, CEO of North American Manufacturing, is meticulous.
Strips to stripes
The red and white stripes are first cut into 125-yard-long strips. They are sewn together to make continuous panels by simultaneously folding and stitching the edges of each strip to strengthen the flag and create smooth seams.
About 2 tons of thread is used each year.
Next, the red and while panels are measured and sliced into upper stripe and lower stripe fields.
The blue star fields with sewn 5-point white stars, purchased from Embroidery Solutions in South Carolina, are measured and cut before an employee attaches the upper and lower stripe fields and the star field.
“The sewers have to use both of their hands and their feet,” Stanton said. “It’s almost like a drummer. They need to have all of their body moving and controlling the machine.”
So the woven works are ready for the flag pole?
Not just yet.
The header is sewn on using stronger thread and the final edge is stitched, giving Old Glory a clean look and protection against weathering. A final inspection consists of checking the flags for defects, decolorizations and stray threads.
“You need to have a very hawk-like eye to be able to see things most people don’t,” Stanton said. “The quality of these flags is exceptionally high.”
Stanton noted the company has established a routine over the years to streamline production, including cutting and sewing techniques.
“One of the things we’re most known for here is trying to develop a process that can be repeated,” he said. “We’re looking to try to make the most consistent product and we want to deliver on time.”
Stanton said Joseph Shea, the original owner of North American Manufacturing, signed on to the American flag business because he’s patriotic and loves the flag.
In 2017, with Shea at the helm, the company broke the world record for the largest free-hanging flag. The massive piece measured 5,475.25 square feet and weighed about 400 pounds.
“He wanted to have his company be a part of something bigger than itself,” Stanton said.
Debbie Wademan of Scranton, who serves as production supervisor at the plant, stressed there was a significant learning curve to master the process of flag making.
“It took us a while,” she said. “From starting to figure it out to making our first flag was about nine months. You have some leeway and have to figure out what’s going to work best for you.”
Wademan takes pride in making the flags for longtime government employees.
“I enjoy sewing and creating with my hands,” she said.
The composition of the flag is crucial to ensure each one meets specifications set forth by the government.
“It’s very critical that the points of the stars are always in the same spot,” Stanton said. “When the president or someone on his staff is doing a press conference the flags behind them need to look perfect.”