Verona, Flags, And The Moon

By on July 16, 2019

Buzz Aldrin with an American flag on the moon during the Apollo 11 landing.
Fifty years ago today, the Apollo 11 mission blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center and headed toward the moon. In the hold of its lunar lander were 186 so-called stick flags made by Annin Flagmakers, flags that the mission’s astronauts–Glen Ridge native Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins–would later distribute as mementos of their landing on the moon. Aldrin and Armstrong also planted a flag on the moon, for one of the mission’s most iconic photographs. Verona lore has it that that flag was that an Annin flag too. But was it, and all the stick flags, made in Verona? The answers are not so simple.

Annin operated a factory in Verona for almost a century before it was closed in 2013 and the building was converted into apartments in 2017. According to its official corporate history, Annin had leased a small building in Verona in 1916 at 371 Bloomfield Avenue–a property later absorbed into Verona Park–to recruit and train new employees. The company also identified a piece of land at 163 Bloomfield Avenue in Verona that could be the site of a large factory to replace small workrooms it had scattered across New York City. This was during World War I, and the company history says that Annin had to petition the New Jersey Council of Defense to turn what was then a farm into the plant because construction resources were scarce. Work started in Verona on December 8, 1918 and, after only 40 days, the company had the roof on a five-story concrete building.

But Verona wasn’t Annin’s only flag factory in New Jersey at the time of the Apollo 11 mission. In 1963, Annin had become involved in a large-scale flag giveaway sponsored by Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Annin had to lease space at the then Danco factory in Bloomfield to keep up with the orders. That same year, the company also bought factory space at 88 Llewellyn Avenue in Bloomfield.

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In Annin’s corporate history, C. Randolph “Randy” Beard II, the company’s chairman and CEO at the time of the Apollo 11 landing, was asked about the moon flags:

“But was the American flag in the iconic moon-walk photograph made by Annin? Officially, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration wouldn’t say. ‘NASA doesn’t want another Tang incident’, Randy notes, referring to a powdered beverage whose sales soared after its NASA connection was publicized. A government spokesman told Randy that NASA intended to construct the lunar banner from cut-apart flags procured from several suppliers, in part so that no single company could take credit. To fulfill this plan, “three secretaries were sent out to buy 3-by-5 foot nylon flags on their lunch hours NASA told me’, Randy says. It was believed that all three bought their flags at Sears, to which Annin was then the sole flag supplier. But that story, as well as the cut-and-piece-together story, may have been red herrings. An investigative article in The Raven, the journal of the North American Vexillological Association, later concluded: ‘It is uncertain who manufactured the flag that was deployed by the Apollo 11 crew.”

“There’s no question NASA doctored the flag planted by Aldrin. Because the moon has no air, the flag had to be made to look like it was flying. NASA achieved this by pre-stiffening the material, adding ripples and constructing a push-up device akin to an umbrella opener. The actual flag has long since disintegrated.”

“Annin shared NASA’s desire to not commercialize the moon flag. Company ads and literature generally say only that the lunar mission carried Annin flags. But a retired NASA official told company executives that the photographed flag was unquestionably Annin’s. This executive, William Whipkey, worked in the technical services area for NASA during the 1960s and 1970s, and personally dealt with Bill Dwiggins at Annin.”

So that answers the moon question, right? Not so fast. The Annin corporate history says that Annin “moved the government flag work and the silk-screening of custom flags formerly done in Verona” to the Bloomfield factory on Llewellyn Avenue that had been opened in 1963. Were the moon flags made in Bloomfield or Verona?

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“We made stick flags in both locations, so it’s hard to know,” says Carter Beard, Annin’s current president, “but it likely was Verona.”

Beard says that both locations also made 3-by-5 foot flags, the size of the flag that was deployed on the moon, but that the star field of all those flags was made in Verona even if the stripes were later added in Bloomfield. He remains reticent, however, to definitively claim that the moon flag was an Annin product. “We’ve had it verified from multiple sources that the [moon] flag was an Annin flag, but it didn’t have an Annin label on it,” he says.

One thing that was certain about those moon astronauts: Their uniforms were decorated with a patch silk-screened by Annin. That’s a win for Verona, right? Again, maybe not. There was silk-screening work done on the fourth floor of the Verona building–but also in Bloomfield.

Happy Apollo 11 moon mission anniversary everybody.

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One Comment

  1. Dan Kraft

    July 16, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Those of us who were at VHS around 1965 can remember when the American flag which was flown atop the George Washington Bridge was brought to the school gym to be repaired and cleaned. I only saw the flag at the GW Bridge a few times but the picture in my mind of the flag’s immense dimensions spilling over in the gym is one of those indelible childhood
    memories.

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