Flags tend to have rich histories. The flag poles on which they fly have a history, too, which offers glimpses into changes in technology and culture. After all, if it weren't for the flag pole, the proud flags people fly would be little more than rugs.
Early flag poles were simply trees selected for their relative straightness that were cut down, stripped of bark and branches, and then replanted in the ground with a flag attached at the top.
Refined Wooden Pole
More refined wooden poles were made with spruce or pine trees, which naturally grow straighter than hardwood trees. These trees were stripped of bark and branches and then thoroughly smoothed down with draw knives and planes. They were covered with multiple coats of animal fat to make them weatherproof before being planted in the ground. Because the poles were planted directly in dirt, they tended to rot at the base. Still, well-constructed wooden poles were beautiful artifacts that could remain functional for as many as 50 years.
Near the turn of the 20th century, steel flag poles became more popular, although they were often simply the recycled materials that had served other purposes. Ships masts were often repurposed as flag poles. Steel section poles used to house trolley lines were employed to make flag poles and eventually, sectional steel flag poles were manufactured for the purpose of flying flags. Wooden poles became obsolete. In the later 1920s, flag pole producers began constructing the long tapered poles so common today.
Manufacturing advances in extruding aluminum poles led eventually to the dominance of aluminum and aluminum alloys as the primary materials for creating flag poles today. Aluminum is more versatile as a manufacturing material, and as production processes have improved, it has become far cheaper than steel.
In 1924, Alvin Kelly, a Hollywood stuntman, on a dare, climbed to the top of a flagpole and sat on a small platform he fitted there for more than 13 days. The spectacle created a national fad. Hundreds of others around the country attempted to break his record sitting on flag poles for weeks at a time. Kelly couldn't let his record die, so he eventually returned to the pole, setting a new record of 49 days. The Great Depression killed the pole sitting fad.
Space Age Flag Pole
The pole used to "fly" the flag planted on the moon by the Apollo 11 crew may have been the most engineered flag pole in history. The pole was designed with a telescoping horizontal support to hold a flag out stiffly in the lack of atmosphere, much less wind, on the surface of the moon. It was made very light weight, and employed a telescoping design that could be manipulated by astronauts wearing massive space suit gloves. The flag was stored in a shroud that traveled tucked into one of the legs of the lunar lander's ladder.
- Photo Credit USA flag image by MAXFX from Fotolia.com
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