Ask Artie Schaller how many stars the American flag had in 1869, and he instantaneously answers, “Thirty-seven.” The question would stump most people, but Schaller has a distinct advantage: He grew up in a family business that’s one of the nation’s oldest flag manufacturers.
The National Flag Company originated with a Cincinnati printing business that opened in 1869. “Our founders printed all kinds of things but also made flags on the side,” says Schaller. “By 1894, flags were their most popular item, so they incorporated The National Flag Company.” The Schallers’ involvement started in 1903, when 12-year-old George Schaller was hired as a stock boy. He became National Flag’s president in 1948. Today, Artie serves as general manager, and his father — Art Schaller Jr. — is president.
Although National Flag produces more than a million flags and banners annually, it remains a small, customer-oriented business, with 21 employees. “They’ve been here an average of 17 years, and six have been with us more than 30 years,” says Schaller. Phone calls to the company are answered by a real person, and the public is welcome to walk into its factory building in Cincinnati’s West End and purchase flags at the front office’s service counter. National Flag made some 5 million American flags for the 1976 bicentennial, but demand for Old Glory skyrocketed after the 2001 terrorist attacks. “When 9/11 happened, we sold every flag we had in two-and-a-half days,” recalls Schaller. “Then people lined up to buy flags as soon as we finished making them.”
National Flag focuses on manufacturing handheld “stick” flags commonly used for parades, July Fourth festivities, and other patriotic events. Using a century-old press, employees print the miniature American flags and affix them to wooden dowels.
The company also creates made-to-measure American flags and, of course, state flags. With the only swallowtail state flag, Ohio presents something of a challenge. “Because of Ohio’s burgee cut, it’s not the easiest flag to make and takes extra time,” says Schaller.
Since National Flag’s forte is customization, its equipment ranges from a digital printer for producing vinyl banners to hand-operated sewing machines used for its nylon, polyester, and cotton flags. Recent projects include 20-foot by 30-foot American flags designed to hang in Amazon warehouses and flags for a Disney hotel that feature appliquéd artwork and letters. “There are four rows of double stitching on each letter,” says Schaller, “and every flag takes about 20 hours of sewing.” In addition to its 152 years of signifying the pride and passions of individuals, organizations, businesses, and nations, National Flag has branched out to installing residential and commercial flagpoles. “We’ve evolved,” observes Schaller, “into a full-service flag company.”