How Early International Maritime Signal Flags Were Made

I found an interesting article that was titled ” Women Who Make Flags”. Since we manufacture our signal flags I thought that I would share parts of the article with you. The article was published in the New York Times on October 2, 1898.
In the Brooklyn Navy Yard they worked Nights, Sundays, and Holidays during the war in order to fit out the new ships. The article address-making Signal flags, our American flag and also many foreign flags. It also talks about a big flag manufactory, which after researching I believe is Annin, which is still in business today although it looks like they concentrated more on our flag over the years. This post will deal more with International maritime signal flags.

Here is a picture that shows a seamstress in the early 1940’s working away on an American flag courtesy of the Annin flag company.

Annin Seamstess working

Navy vessels generally carry from 30 to 40 American flags that include the jacks and the pennant, but not including the international signal flags which tended to vary. All were made in the big equipment building in the Navy yard. Below is a picture of one of the sewing machines that were used at the time.

Early sewing machine

There were machine sewers and hand sewers. The colors were often brilliant. The work was made with exact proportions and very painstakingly done. It was difficult work and careful attention to detail had to be made. There is no guesswork about making a flag. On the two-sided flags they must match exactly. This makes the work difficult especially with flags that have a lot of detail.
Because the wind and the weather tried there best to destroy them even a single thread hanging could unravel and destroy the flags. The work hours went from 5 hours a day to 8 and towards the end even 10 hours. The women call all the square flags and the devices for them. There was a pattern for every flag. Because the flags varied in size and design there was no monotony with the work.

If you wish to read the full article you can read it here:

New York Times Archive

The men employed in the flag department cut the stars and bias pennants and put on the finishing touches. They also put the heading through where the rope is run and also mark it according to what size it was. It was then rolled up.
At the time there was only 19 international signal flags as compared today of the 26. This last picture is another woman sewing in the early 1940’s courtesy of the Bankcoft library.

Woman sewing in the 1940’s

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