Capitol idea: A flag flown in D.C.
Eighty years ago, a tradition began in Washington, D.C., that continues to this day. Called the Capitol Flag Program, it’s a unique celebration of the star-spangled banner that anyone can take part in. An American flag, at your request, will be lifted above the Capitol, flown briefly and then sent to your home as a patriotic souvenir.
The program debuted when a congressman asked a simple question: Could a flag be lifted to the top of the iconic structure and then given to him? That led to various groups – schools, for example – asking for flags to be raised for them.
Soon, individual citizens latched on to the notion, leading the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) to create a program of regularly flying banners that were purchased from or given out for free by congressional representatives.
“Flags are flown daily year-round, weather permitting, excluding Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day,” according to AOC’s office.
While the flags thrill people who receive them as holiday gifts, birthday presents or anniversary salutes, some people are skeptical about the value of the program. Writing in 1971, for instance, a newspaper columnist grumped that “there is something…a little too assembly line about this and I wish they would quit it….It is pretty phony.” Besides, he added, “that is not what the flag is for.”
But his words didn’t deter Americans in love with Old Glory. Orders for Capitol flags rise each year. At first, hundreds were sought. Then thousands. In 1960, 16,000 banners went up the flagpoles atop the Capitol, a total that reflected the popularity of the new 50-star flags that marked the entry of Alaska and Hawaii into the Union.
That was only the beginning of the flag boom. A 1979 newspaper article described the D.C. banners as “widely sought.” In 1984, The New York Times called the program “a Capitol idea” that met “soaring demand for national banners.” Even prominent people sought the special flags, including crooner Frank Sinatra and rocker Boy George.
Now, every year, more than 100,000 flags quickly go up – and swiftly come down – multiple poles that are set aside on the Capitol roof just to meet the demand.
Each banner is then delivered, with a Certificate of Authenticity, to wide-eyed children, patriotic teens and grown-ups in search of a special souvenir of their country.
(To learn more about the Capitol Flag Program, go to www.aoc.gov/flags.)