About Utah: Flag-waver a master of patriotism

Published: Sunday, July 4 2010 1:21 a.m. MDT

SANDY — Paul Swenson is a flag-waver, and if you don't believe that, check out what he does for a living. His store, Colonial Flag, is a veritable shrine to America. A purveyor of patriotism. If it comes in red, white and blue you can buy it here.

There are posters with patriotic slogans. There are framed copies of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, including one that sells for $1,900. There are signs and T-shirts and military tributes.

But more than anything else there are American flags. About 30,000 in inventory on any given day. During this Fourth of July holiday, Paul expects about 30,000 will go back out the door, bound for parades, front porches, flag poles, large and small celebrations and a few football fields.

Among Colonial Flags' specialties are the 300-foot-by-150-foot American flags it sews for people who want to make a big statement. When fully unfolded, the flags are exactly the same size as a football field. You need a couple hundred people — and not much wind — just to stretch one out.

Paul is a capitalist. He doesn't give his flags away (although he is involved in a charity called Healing Field that does give away flags, but that's another story).

But he is also an avowed patriot, which means if you get him started talking about Old Glory, you could be there a while.

This year his favorite flag fact is that the 50-star version of the American flag is celebrating its 50th birthday. The 50-star flag was officially unveiled on July 4, 1960, following the admittance of Hawaii into the union on Aug. 21, 1959.

No flag, by the way, has ever had a longer run. The 48-star flag was second in longevity, lasting 47 years, from July 4, 1912, to July 4, 1959, the year in which Alaska became a state and ushered in the 49-star flag. That term lasted just 12 months.

The famous 13-star "Betsy Ross" Flag had an 18-year run, from 1777 until 1795, when Vermont and Kentucky were admitted as states and two more stars were added to the canton (the blue part of the flag).

Utah, incidentally, ushered in the 45-star flag on July 4, 1896, and it waved for 12 years, until Oklahoma became a state in 1908.

Anyway, Paul knows this sort of flag lore, and much more, and says his love for the flag dates back to long before he started to sell them.

"I was one of those little kids who could never sing the national anthem when they raised the flag," he says. "I'd just get a lump in my throat."

When he was a college student at BYU and left America for the first time for a study abroad semester in Israel, he packed an American stick flag with him. That same flag later went with him on an LDS mission to Portugal, further study in Egypt and his first paying job as a businessman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

He still has that stick flag, and no, it's not for sale.

When he returned from Saudi Arabia in 1987, his brother had started a small flag-selling business that was operating out of his garage.

In classic only-in-America fashion, Paul wound up taking over the business, and 23 years later it's operating out of a 36,000-square-foot plant next to the freeway in Sandy — one of the largest flag businesses in the Rockies.

It's easy to spot. It's the one with the dozen American flags waving out front, including a huge one in the middle towering above all the rest.

"Some nights at sunset you should see it glow," says Paul of his gigantic signature flag. "Those big flags have a wave all their own."

You can always tell when someone truly believes in what they're selling.

benson@desnews.com.

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