Your Company Makes What?
How is it that a product can be so iconic, so weaved into the fabric of American culture, yet the majority of us have no idea who's threading the needle?
Once a pious duty reserved for church-appointed bakers in ceremonially shielded iron-plated ovens, the body of Christ in cracker-form has, in modern day, been outsourced to the business sector. For nearly 70 years, four generations of a Rhode Island family called the Cavanaghs have produced a crumble-free variety of the consecrated unleavened bread for Eucharist services all over the world. Today, the Cavanagh Company enjoys an 80% share of the communion wafer market in Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Southern Baptist churches in the US, Australia, Canada and Britain with expansion hopes in West Africa.
The running joke that the decline of American industry is no more manifest than the overseas outsourcing of the very symbol of our self sufficiency -- our flag -- is funny because it’s, unfortunately, true. In 2010, we imported $3.2 million worth of Old Glories from other countries, with China stitching the lion’s share at $2.8 million.
But at least one American maker of the Stars and Stripes has been around since nearly the beginning. In the 1820s, less than 50 years after its debut, when there were still only 24 stars spangling the banner, Alexander Annin began sewing American flags for merchant ships out of his New York City waterfront sail-making shop. Annin Flagmakers has since been the supplier of flags for the Union troops during the Civil war, made the flag draped over President Lincoln’s coffin on his funeral train from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, in 1865 and outfitted the front porches of patriotic citizens during World War I. By the mid-twentieth century, Annin became known as the premier flag maker in the United States, with all facets of production remaining, to this day, strictly within our borders.
Ever wondered who made those pens your pervy uncle used to brandish from his sport coat that, when tilted upside down, would make a lady’s clothes slide right down her body? Would you be surprised to know they’re still in business?
Eskesen, a 20-person Danish company, and manufacturer of the Original Floating Action Tip & Strip pens, has been kicking around the promotional and souvenir retail sector since 1946 with its naughty take on the ballpoint writing utensil. While the company has added acrylic key tags and bottle openers to its tchotchke stock and exports to over 60 countries, those oil filled novelties remain among its bestsellers with newer ones bearing the image of our 44th president. Don’t worry, the only thing that rises with a pitch of the Barack Obama version is the American flag.
The front yard of no respectably eccentric household could ever be complete without a plastic pink flamingo. Made famous by designer Don Featherstone and the Leominster, Massachusetts-based Union Products company, the bright pink birds began flocking to America’s lawns in 1957. With a little help from John Waters in 1972, they became a cultural kitsch touchstone and tens of millions were sold until Union Products sold the copyright and mold to Faster-Form Corporation subsidiary HMC International LLC in 2007. The company’s production arm, Cado Manufacturing, Inc., in Fitchburg, MA, is currently charged with the task of keeping the Ig Nobel prize-winners in flight.
LITTLE TREE AIR FRESHENERS|
Born in 1952 out of the request from a milk driver who needed to mask the stench of the spilled dairy product in his truck, Little Trees air fresheners are now the international symbol of car deodorization. The pine tree-shaped disinfectants from Watertown, New York’s Car-Freshener Corporation have been dangling from the review mirrors of the driving masses -- from every seized vehicle in 1984’s Repo Man to the minivan driven by Juno’s titular character. Beginning with a simple evergreen scent, the air fresheners are currently available in more than 60 fragrances and in 195 countries.
CRIME SCENE TAPE|
Any rookie cop worth his salt knows that when he sees that yellow tape, he’d better steel himself for what lies behind it. No single piece of law enforcement equipment better connotes a forensic investigation in progress than the barrier that contains it. Thanks to a Union Hall, Virginia, company called Crime Scene Products, founded in 1992, police departments across the country -- even those in Spanish-speaking locales -- can order all their caution tape-related products online for the otherwise invisible police lines they draw on the streets.
The “three most puke-inducing words that man has yet thought of,” according to late comedian George Carlin, are the ones printed on these iconic diamond-shaped yellow signs. Potentially saving the lives of millions of children and hundreds of stand-up acts, the Massachusetts-based Safety 1st company trademarked the slogan and logo “Baby on Board” in 1984. Sixteen years later, Dorel Industries acquired the patent, which continues to tell motorists (in Carlin’s words), "we know you're a s***** driver most of the time, but because our child is nearby we expect you to straighten up for a little while."
Little plastic containers, about an inch in length and the width of a pencil, have basically two purposes. One is perfectly legitimate, handed out by department store salespeople at the mall while the other is highly illegal and pushed by drug dealers on street corners. When customs agents seized a Brooklyn, New York, factory in 1993, the owner, a 66-year-old Russian immigrant and plastics inventor named Sam Zhadanov, tried to claim the quarter of a million vials inside were intended for perfume samples.
The feds didn’t buy it. Zhadanov eventually plead guilty to money laundering conspiracy and drug paraphernalia distribution charges and was sentenced to the Allenwood Federal Prison Camp in Montgomery, Pennsylvania.
SCRATCH-OFF LOTTERY TICKETS|
While earning the second-ever degree in computer science in the 1960s, budding innovator John R. Koza was helping to produce probability-based rub-off card games for supermarkets and gas stations. This part-time college job would lead to a sweeping overhaul of state lotteries from weekly raffles into the immediate gratification (or not) experience of the instant-win games we know today.
By 1974, Koza’s Scientific Games corporation landed its first contract with the state of Massachusetts for 25 million rub-off games. It has grown into a global leader in the lottery industry with over 120 clients in national, state and provincial governments.
BROWN PAPER BAGS|
Long before the “paper or plastic” question started being posed to shoppers at the checkout line, only one type of bag, of the cellulose pulp variety, was widely available in grocery stores. And while founded in 1953, with a three-decade head-start over its polyethylene rival’s debut on the mass market, Duro Bag Manufacturing Company didn’t become the largest paper bag manufacturer in the world until it managed to buy out its larger competitors.
One feature you’re not likely to find on the bottom of your ordinary, everyday plastic shopping bag is the individual stamp of the worker who manufactured it. While it may not be the most glamorous product on the market to claim as your own, every paper bag made by Duro has a personal touch, bearing its creator’s full name, factory ID and the date.
“The names are there to give the employees a sense of pride in their work,” a Duro spokesperson told Minyanville’s Justin Rohrlich last year. “It's almost like autographing the bag.”
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