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American flag sales surge amid 'rise in patriotism'

In the flag business, summertime is like Christmas. After Memorial Day weekend, there's Flag Day (June 14) and the Fourth of July, which all give sales a healthy boost.

Eder Flag Manufacturing Co. in Oak Creek says it's having a banner year. Sales are up 15% from a year ago, partly from 2016 being a national election year and political events needing flags.

An improved construction industry has helped, too, as new buildings often get new flags.

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Dave and Les Jacobs | Getty Images

"Most importantly, we feel there's a rise in patriotism," said Jodi Goglio, chief operating officer at Eder, a company that has been making flags for more than a century and dates to 1887 when the Eder family started a business making pillows, felt pennants, rag dolls and hunting jackets.

For many flag companies, sales soared following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Eder made the flag that firefighters grabbed from a yacht and raised at New York's ground zero on Sept. 11, a scene immortalized in a now iconic photo.

In the week following the attacks, Eder sold more than 3 million flag-related items — mostly flags but also things like flag lapel buttons. People stood in line for hours to buy a flag, and the company worked day and night to meet the demand.

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"It was all hands on deck. Everyone pitched in wherever there was a need," Goglio recalled.

The original flag in the Sept. 11 photo has been lost, and documentary filmmakers have spent years trying to track it down.

Flag sales drooped in the recession, partly from a drop in construction of new buildings and reductions in spending at many levels.

Now, with heated elections and patriotism, sales are on the mend. In the flag business, sales reflect the political state of affairs regardless of party affiliation.

"We don't expect a decrease anytime soon. We feel it's going to continue," Goglio said.

Eder sells American flags, state flags, the flags of other nations and custom flags and banners.

The most popular versions of Old Glory measure about 3-by-5 feet, although the company has flags in stock measuring 50-by-80 feet, and it can make even larger ones on special order.

Eder keeps up with trends in banners but remains conservative when it comes to the American flag.

"We sell a very traditional product. If you looked at pictures from the 1940s and now, it's very similar. We make a handcrafted product," Goglio said.

An Eder flag measuring 50-by-80 feet weighs 119 pounds and is hand-sewn. Even the stars are placed by hand.

The company has 120 production employees, including flag makers who do hand embroidery and create banners for every nation in the world.

"It's just amazing to see the personal touch they put into creating our product. We are really proud of that," Goglio said.

One thing Eder won't do is make offensive or controversial flags.

Last year, it stopped making and selling the Confederate flag following a wave of public reaction against the symbol of the Confederacy.

Likewise, it bothers Goglio to see someone flying a U.S. flag that's damaged and should be retired with dignity.

"I think it mars the meaning of the flag," she said.

Millions of U.S. flags are made in China, but Eder makes its banners in Oak Creek using American-sourced materials.

The company's longtime owner, the late Eugene Eder, was a World War II veteran who believed strongly in fighting against bigotry, hatred and tyranny.

His experience in the U.S. Navy, along with the passion for flag-making instilled by his father, Morris, convinced him that American flags should be made in America.

"I feel as if there's a growing demand for domestic-made goods in general. We are very proud to supply a symbol of the country made in the USA," Goglio said.

Eder sells its flags through 5,000 independent dealerships, including the Flag Center, which has stores in Oak Creek and Wauwatosa.

Sales at the Flag Center are up from 2015, according to the company, partly from new construction that's fueled a demand for both flagpoles and banners.

"Also, this year in particular, Wisconsin is in play politically. So we have done a lot of business with the campaigns on both sides of the aisle," said Flag Center owner Tom Pluster.

Recently, Pluster's business installed a 70-foot aluminum flagpole at the governor's mansion in Maple Bluff, after the previous pole was damaged by years of exposure to the wind.

In the flag business, every day brings a different challenge.

A crane service was used to remove the old flagpole at the governor's mansion and lift it over the building.

"That was a lot of fun," Pluster said.