Philly shop carries on Betsy Ross’ legacy
Humphreys Flag Co. produces modern and historic American flags
There may be no other city block in the world where more high-quality American flags are sold than Arch Street, between Second and Third streets, in Philadelphia.
The Old City neighborhood was home to seamstress Betsy Ross.
“We’ve moved many times but moving across from the Betsy Ross House was pretty much a no-brainer,” said Matthew O’Connor, COO of Humphreys Flag Company. The shop has been located at 238 Arch Street since the ‘80s.
Humphreys is the fourth largest flag manufacturer in the U.S.
“I would be shocked if there is a bigger retail organization than us,” O’Connor said.
Many Philadelphia visitors make the trek to the historic house where legend says Betsy sewed the first flag.
“They’ve got flags on the brain,” O’Connor said. “They’re in the neighborhood to see historic Philadelphia, they walk out and here we are continuing the legacy of Betsy Ross.”
Flags are special.
When smartly folded above the grave of a soldier and presented to a grieving widow, an American Flag instills pride and signifies great sacrifice.
Everybody in the bleachers knows when the checkered flag is wildly waved for the winner of the Indianapolis 500.
Flags blowing in the breeze are great advertisements.
O’Connor’s favorite flag is a simple and colorful “OPEN” flag flown above a shop door.
O’Connor flies about 30 flags at his home. He talked about his fascination with ever-so-colorful flags made primarily of nylon.
“I like to keep the neighborhood interesting, different, exciting,” he said. “It’s my way of being part of the community.
“I’m constantly thinking about flags.”
Humphreys assistant manager Nick Strauss enjoys working at the flag store on Arch Street.
“It’s what we do for other people,” he said. “It’s so exciting — there’s not a lot of places like this.”
“There’s a lot of history and scholarship, a lot of information to think about—current events, geography and symbolism,” O’Connor said.
With the upcoming presidential election, and during the Democratic National Convention in July, business spiked. The company has sold about 1,000 large DNC flags and thousands of smaller versions.
O’Connor sells all 50 state flags and flags from every country in the world.
Humphreys supplies the 109 national flags lining the Ben Franklin Parkway. Each banner is changed twice per year. He said it’s easy to make mistakes.
Somebody once noticed that two similar flags, from Luxemburg and the Netherlands, were labeled incorrectly and hung out of alphabetical order.
“I can definitely be wrong about flags but it doesn’t happen very often,” O’Connor said with a smile.
A rectangular flag has four quadrants. The blue field and stars of an American flag are located in the first quadrant. This quadrant is located along the hoist end, or where the flag hangs from the pole. The opposite side is known as the fly end.
The second quadrant is located on the fly end, at the top. The third quadrant is located directly below the first, and the fourth lies below the second quadrant.
Flags often change. The United States flag started off with 13 stars. Humphrey’s sells each of those different American Flags.
“Flags from different parts of history are cool,” O’Connor said.
The color of one nation’s flag recently changed slightly. Humphreys sells both the old and the new. Some customers are nostalgic, while others prefer the current version.
The Humphreys factory in Pottstown specializes in making custom flags. The company employees 16 workers. The business produces flags for many professional major sports teams, including the four Philly teams.
Humphreys reconditioned all the historic Yankee pennants hanging in Yankee Stadium.
Since the 1860s, Humphreys has made flags in several locations, including New York City.
Quality is key.
“We don’t depend on volume sales like we did in the old days, “O’Connor said. “We focus on the higher end products — a higher quality of raw materials, with more attention to details.”
Flags are potent national symbols. Our National Anthem was written about a battle-scarred flag.
I was once asked to help change the flag hanging above the carillon bell tower, at Washington Memorial Chapel, in Valley Forge National Historic Park.
From high above, with the American Flag in my hands, I looked down to where Washington’s troops spent the winter.
Since then, I’ve sung the National Anthem just a little bit louder.
Whether it has 13 or 50 stars, nothing better symbolizes America than our flag.
Matthew O’Connor, left, and Nick Strauss take a break from selling flags, at Humphreys in Old City, Philadelphia.
It’s all about flags at Humphreys, located across the street from the Betsy Ross House.