When Manchester’s NH’s Amoskeag Mill (Almost) Built the World’s Largest Flag

Flag women and made up by Mill-workers at Manchester NH.  Photograph from Harlan A. Marshall, as printed on page 411 of The National Geographic Magazine, October 1917.

Flag woven and made up by mill-workers at Manchester NH. Photograph by Harlan A. Marshall, as printed on page 411 of The National Geographic Magazine, October 1917.

Almost is an interesting word.  It means nearly, pretty darn close but no cigar, not entirely, second place.  It would have been easier for me to just stick with the story already out there–that in 1914 Manchester New Hampshire’s Amoskeag Mills created the world’s largest flag. I almost did. It almost was.  But telling the truth seems more important than perpetuating the myth. That impressive American flag that I saw in photographs, hanging from the lofty brick mill building in Manchester was almost the largest in the world. Newspaper stories printed in countless newspapers between July and October of 1914, touting it as the greatest, were almost correct.That another company had just two months earlier constructed a larger flag that had been displayed in a parade, doesn’t take away from the amazing feat of Manchester New Hampshire’s Amoskeag weavers, dyers and sewers.  They produced a “monster flag,” and there is a photograph to prove it. It was indeed the largest American flag made in New Hampshire (and probably holds the record to this day).

Beginning in July of 1914 newspapers proclaimed Amoskeag’s feat with

Weave room, No. 11 Mill, Manchester NH from old postcard

Weave room, No. 11 Mill, Manchester NH from old postcard

headlines such as: “The Largest American Flag,” “The Biggest of Flags,” “Largest Flag.” This continued into October when the Ludington Daily News of Ludington Michigan explained:“LARGEST FLAG.  The largest United States flag in existence has just been finished by the Amoskeag Manufacturing company. It is 95 feet long and 50 feet wide. Each of the 13 stripes is nearly four feet high or 47 inches. The stars on the flag are constructed within a 39-inch circle, and are about three feet from point to point.  The blue field is 38 feet in length and a little over 20 feet in height. The stars alone weigh nine pounds, while the completed flag weight 200 pounds. In making this huge flag the government regulation that the nation’s banner shall never be allowed to touch the ground was complied with, although this was difficult on account of the dimensions.  A pole 285 feet high has been prepared to hold the flag. Unusually strong bunting had to be used to prevent the flag from being torn to pieces by the strain it will be subjected to. Mathematical persons are now trying to estimate how much wind pressure will be required to make an American flag weighing 200 pounds and containing 4,750 square feet of bunting fly out straight from the flag pole.” [ October 7, 1914, page 2] [

Another article went on to say that “the bunting of which the flag…was spun, woven and dyed under the roof of the Amoskeag plant.The Washington Post of August 30, 1914 proclaimed: “There’s a new biggest American flag ever made. So much the biggest that there is no second biggest worth talking about. The construction of this monster flag has just been finished by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company.

These bold statement apparently touched a nerve. Not everyone was in agreement with the Amoskeag pronouncement. A letter to the editor appeared in The New York Times on August 6, 1914 as follows: “To the Editor of the New York Times: In your article of July 28 we note an article entitled, “Biggest Flag on Earth,” which states that “There is a new ‘biggest American flag ever made,’ so much the biggest that there is no ‘second biggest’ worth talking about.” We take exception to this, inasmuch as the description of what you term the “biggest flag on earth” is simply the second biggest on earth. The “biggest flag on earth” was made by us in May and forwarded on June 1 to the Million Population Club of St. Louis, Mo., and was used in a parade on Flag Day, June 14 last. AMERICAN FLAG MFG. COMPANY. Per L.F. STEINER. Easton, Penn., July 29, 1914.

A few days later, another article appeared in the Frederick News Post, Frederick Maryland, August 12, 1914, page 4: “ST. LOUIS CLAIMS BIGGEST FLAG | Fifty Pretty Girls Made the Largest Star Spangled Banner. | A reader objects to the statement in a recent article that the flag which has just been made by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company, and which is ninety-five feet long by fifty feet wide, is the “biggest American flag ever made.” The biggest American flag ever made is a St. Louis flag–the flag carried in the Million Population Club’s parade June 14. That flag is 150 feet long by 78 feet wide. It has thirteen stripes, each six feet in width, and its stars are each four and one-half feet high. It was made by fifty pretty St. Louis girls and 175 members of the Million Population Club carried it in the parade. There will probably never be a bigger flag made. Size matters little in flags, anyway. The original Star-Spangled Banner, which waved over Fort McHenry and inspired the great American patriotic song, was thirty-two by twenty-eight feet in size. It was plenty big enough–St. Louis Post Dispatch.”

Indeed, it appears that the so-called ‘St. Louis flag’ was larger.  Two newspapers on Flag Day, June 15, 1914 had reported on the ‘gigantic Old Glory’ referred to above.

Decatur Daily Review, Decatur Illinois, June 15, 1914, page 6. — 100,000 WITNESS FLAG DAY PARADE | St. Louis. June 15–One hundred thousand persons turned out yesterday and witnessed a spectacular Flag Day celebration. Seventy-five thousand lined the curbing and sidewalks of Lindell boulevard from Grand avenue to DeBaliviere avenue and cheered the gigantic “Old Glory” as it was carried by seventy-five members of the Million Population club, under whose auspices the celebration was conducted.

Atlantic News, Atlantic Iowa, June 15, 1914. — Biggest Flag at St. Louis |  St. Louis, June 15.–An American flag 150 feet long and 78 feet wide, believed to be the biggest edition of the Stars and Stripes ever issued, was carried by 175 members of the Million Population club in the flag day parade on Lindell boulevard.

So, it looks like the Amoskeag Mill almost built the world’s largest flag.  But this leads to another story entirely.  The book, “Postcard History Series: Manchester,” by Robert B. Perrault, states, “Located on McGregor Street between West Bridge and Foundry Streets, Amoskeag’s No. 11 Mill took from 1889 to 1891 to construct. Once the largest cotton mill building in the world, it measured 900 feet by 103 feet and contained 4,000 looms. Beginning in 1913, its cloth room produced American flags, including the “Great Amoskeag Flag” of 1914, which measured 95 feet by 50 feet. Renamed Mill West, today it houses various businesses.” [2005, page 206].

In other words, the Great Amoskeag Flag was not the only flag produced by No. 11

Woman at sewing machine working on American flag, Manchester NH.

Woman at sewing machine working on American flag, probably Amoskeag cloth room, Manchester NH.

Mill–they produced others of various sizes. The cloth room was actually located in Mill No. 12 Annex, that was built in 1891 and attached to Mill No. 11 by a second-story bridge. Today, Mill No. 11 and the annex looks very much the same, but today is now called The Lofts at Mill West at 195 McGregor Street.

 

 

In 1913 the Amoskeag cloth room was a place of industriousness, of nimble fingers, and of

Women posing with flag, mill in Manchester NH.

Women posing with flag, n Manchester NH, probably Amoskeag cloth room.

the sound of machinery. This was the same year that female textile workers at Amoskeag organized  the Amoskeag Women’s Textile Club (reorganized from a 1910 Lady Clerk’s club).

I recently came into possession of a series of photographs.  All that is known of them is that they came out of the same album, containing photographs taken in the early 1910’s, showing scenes and women involving the Amoskeag mills and flag making.  No event in history happens without human beings–in this case four female

Women in cloth room, Amoskeag Mill, Manchester NH.

Women, probably in cloth room, Amoskeag Mill, Manchester New Hampshire circa 1913.

workers of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. They could be your relatives.

For every flag created at Amoskeag there were many hands, mostly female, behind the stitching and piecework.  The days were long and the pay was not extravagant.  In 1913 when these photographs were taken, the women pictured had not yet achieved the right to

Mill women on their day off, circa 1913, Manchester NH.

Female mill workers sight-seeing, circa 1913, probably Manchester New Hampshire.

vote in Manchester (or the nation’s) elections. That would not occur for another seven years.

As for Manchester’s giant flag, you might wonder what became of it.  A few years ago I learned that John Clayton, the Union Leader editor who wrote so many wonderful stories about the city, decided that the great American banner had ended up in Chicago at the  Marshall Field’s Store (now Macys). Their history, however, states that their tradition of hanging a giant flag did not start until 1916.

What I do know is that on 19 May 1916 the Laconia, NH newspaper, “Democrat,” included this notice: “The biggest civic parade in American history took place in New York City last Saturday when 151,000 men and women marched in line as a demonstration in favor of preparedness. New Hampshire was represented in this grand parade by the largest American flag in existence, measuring 100 feet long and 52 feet wide and weights 500 pounds. It was made, every stitch of it, by the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company.”  Was the flag afterwards sold to Marshall Fields in Chicago? It is entirely possible.

Since I am spilling the beans on Manchester’s giant flag, I might as well spill them all.  Manchester was not even the first New Hampshire city to create a giant flag, nor the largest flag, though it was probably the first to create a giant traditional American flag (notice my particular choice of words).   Sometimes I don’t know when to quit on a story, and this time is one of them.

Fifty-eight years earlier a giant (and larger) flag had flown in Concord, New Hampshire.  This flag was not the stars and stripes, but rather a promotion for the election campaign that year of Democrats Buchanan and Breckenridge.

The New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, Concord NH, carried an article on Wednesday, September 10, 1856 [Vol 10, Issue 486, page 2] that read as follows (excerpts only): ” On Friday last, the Democrats of Concord raised the largest flag that floats in the Union! It is 93 feet long and 60 feet wide, and measures about 5600 square feet! It hangs from two high poles across Main Street, in front of the State House, and bears upon the upper end an eagle, with the motto, “The Constitution and the Union,” and upon the other the names of Buchanan and Breckinridge….Men were employed to go into the forest and fell the trees for the pole and on the morning of the 5th, a pole about 140 feet high was ready for the flag–the other pole was erected in 1852. The cloth for the flag was obtained with great difficulty, the Boston market being pretty well drained of bunting. But it was found–about 1200 yards; and then the Democratic ladies of Concord, always ready for a good work, took hold in earnest; the mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of the Democrats of Concord, to the number of about seventy, assembled in Depot Hall, and plied their nimble fingers most vigorously for three days, early and late, and by 5 o’clock on the afternoon of the 4th the great flag was ready.” Note: A smaller version (11×18″) from the same campaign recently sold at auction for over $16,000.

Just a little recap of the flag sizes:
The Amoskeag Mill flag of July 1914:  95×50 – 4,750 square feet
The St. Louis Missouri flag of June 1914: 150×78 – 11,700 square feet
The Concord NH election flag of 1856: 93×60 – 5,600 square feet

So, as you can see, the Amoskeag mill workers of Manchester, New Hampshire did not make the largest American flag in existence at that time, nor did they make the largest flag ever made in the State of New Hampshire. But they probably did make the largest American flag ever created in the state of New Hampshire.

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One Response to When Manchester’s NH’s Amoskeag Mill (Almost) Built the World’s Largest Flag

  1. Janet Barter says:

    Disappointed to learn that Amoskeag Mills’ largest flag wasn’t really the largest, after all. ;)

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