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When even Old Glory is made in China

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That's not a huge amount considering American companies already turn out more than 100 million flags of all types each year. Probably less than 5 percent of American flags sold are made overseas, says Tibor Egervary, director of sales and marketing for the Valley Forge Flag Co., in Womelsdorf, Pa. The company is one of the top providers of flag products to the US government.

Yet Chinese-made American flags account for about 20 percent of American flags sold at the United States Flag Store, says Kevin Hickey, vice president of marketing for its parent company, Online Stores Inc. The United States Flag Store (www.united-states-flag.com) does about $5 million worth of business annually.

The company sells thousands of the small, vinyl flags so ubiquitous at parades and on cars. Nearly all are made overseas: The Chinese do a better job with small flags, Mr. Hickey says, while those made in America tend to fall apart.

Yet at Valley Forge, larger flags are what really matter - not those meant to last only a day or two. "That's not a flag product," Mr. Egervary says. "That's a toy or an entertainment product."

Until recently, the most American flags ever imported in a single year was about 2.5 million, according to government data.

Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. For all of 2001, nearly 113 million American flags, worth nearly $52 million, were imported. US manufacturers lacked the materials or machines to keep up with demand, and the wait for an American-made flag was often several months.

Since then imports have tapered off drastically. But they haven't disappeared completely, in part because foreign-made flags are considerably cheaper. At united-states-flag.com, a foreign-made, 4-by-6-foot nylon flag sells for $18.95. Its American-made counterpart is priced at $27.50. Overall, says Hickey, foreign-made flags are about 30 percent cheaper.

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