A one-of-a-kind, 49-star presidential flag is not a typical family heirloom.
Yet, the daughter and son-in-law of a former Army Quartermaster supply officer who served while Dwight Eisenhower was president inherited this flag and continue to preserve it.
Donna and Chuck Douglas usually keep this piece of history in a secured vault in Lakeland, Florida, with carbon dioxide and argon air flows at 78 degrees Fahrenheit and 50 percent humidity to protect the silk fabric.
In late June they avoided air travel and drove the flag to Philadelphia to show it to embroiders with the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Clothing and Textiles supply chain who make the current 50-star presidential and vice presidential flags.
“Our visit to the flag room to meet with the ‘flag ladies’ and see how the flags are made was a dream come true,” Donna Douglas said.
During the visit, the ‘flag ladies’ inspected the 49-star presidential flag, in addition to a 48-star flag the Douglas’ also brought, and compared it to the work they do today.
Flag Room Supervisor Hue Nguyen said it was the first time she saw a presidential flag with real gold and silver fringes in-person. Metallic threads are currently used, and specifications of the flag design have changed over time, Nguyen explained.
“I started [in the Flag Room] in 1992, and from that time there has been a lot of changes,” Nguyen said.
Only one presidential flag with 49 stars was produced and placed in Eisenhower’s Oval Office as Alaska and Hawaii received statehood within months of each other in 1959, Donna Douglas explained. Corresponding stars for the states were then added to the U.S. and presidential flags.
“When the new 49-star presidential flag was replacing the 48-star [flag] during President Eisenhower’s term, [my father] knew the 48-star [flag] was set for disposal, so he asked for it and it was given to him,” Donna Douglas said. “When the 50-star flag was replacing the 49-star [flag], he once again asked for the flag and it was given to him. He knew that the change from the 48 to the 49-star flag was a significant piece of history to preserve.”
Her father Ludwell B. Pruett, served in several supply officer positions throughout his career, including with the Quartermaster General and the Office of the Chief Quartermaster in Europe. Pruett was known for processing government flag orders.
“If you needed a flag, you would go to him,” Chuck Douglas said. “He would requisition it from the Quartermaster Depot and make sure the flags got to where they needed to be.”
Taking on the responsibility of Pruett’s flags have led Donna and Chuck Douglas to be forensic vexillologists, or individuals who study the scientific and historical characteristics of flags.
During their visit to the Flag Room, they were joined by Robert Williamson, curator and executive director of the House of Flags Museum in Columbus, North Carolina, and his wife, Debra.
“This visit to the Flag Room was one of the most rewarding visits in my lifetime,” Williamson said. “The enthusiasm of all of the ‘flag ladies’ as they inspected the 48-star and 49-star President’s Flags from the late 1950s was most rewarding.”
Williamson is curating an exhibit and writing a book about the evolution of presidential flags, which will include the work of DLA Troop Support’s embroiderers.
“There will be a portion of the exhibit dedicated to the Flag Room and the tireless efforts of all who work at [DLA Troop Support] to create these unique, hand-embroidered, hand-assembled flags,” Williamson said.