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When even Old Glory is made in China

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Thirteen stripes, 50 stars, and a tiny, often unnoticed label: Made in China.

Thank heavens Betsy Ross isn't here to see it.

More than 200 years ago, the Philadelphia seamstress helped create the first American flag. Legend says she impressed Gen. George Washington by fashioning a five-pointed star with a single snip of her scissors.

Today Old Glory, like most products, has gone global. And as the flag-waving season gets under way, consumers might expect some discussion about country of origin.

Rest assured, the vast majority of American flags are still made in the good old USA. But after Sept. 11, 2001, when feelings of patriotism caused demand for flags to skyrocket, foreign manufacturers saw opportunity. Appealing to price-conscious shoppers, they outfitted thousands with hand-held flags.

The United States imported $7.9 million worth of American flags in 2002, according to the Census Bureau. Some of those flags have left consumers baffled.

"We've actually gotten questions from people who had 53-star flags ... and they wondered if there was a special significance to that," says Joyce Doody, director of membership services at the National Flag Foundation, a patriotic education association in Pittsburgh. "We presume that they were made in another country."

Most imported flags come from China - about $5 million worth last year - but Taiwan and Korea have also made hundreds of thousands in recent years, according to data from the US Department of Commerce, the US Treasury, and the US International Trade Commission.

Shanghai Flag & Tent Works, for example, exported about $1 million worth of merchandise to the United States last year, with American flags accounting for about 80 percent of the total, says Zheng Banglin, general manager for the firm, which claims to control about one-third of the Chinese-made flag market in the US.


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