The Arizona Chronicles, Part II

Flagstaff

Ever wonder where those Arizona folk came up with the name “Flagstaff”? To be honest, it never really crossed my mind until my uncle decided to fill me in on the story!

We had made a quick pit stop at the Crown Railroad Café in Flagstaff, AZ to fuel up on some good eats before we puttered around the Grand Canyon. (By the way, if you have never had a pancake taco, I strongly suggest you go out there and find yourself one.) In any case, it was at this time that my Uncle John decided to clue me in. First, you have to understand that quite a bit of Arizona is fairly desert-like. The most common trees in most places are Mesquite and Palo Verde, with Pinyon Pines being more common at higher elevations. Other than that, there are a whole lot of cacti and shrubs. Needless to say, wood and timber is a little thin on the ground (no pun intended) in most of Arizona. The Flagstaff area is a big exception! The trees in this mountainous region are so tall and impressive that I could not believe we were still in Arizona.

According to my Uncle John, this abundance of tall trees is where Flagstaff got its name. Flagstaff became the popular spot with people all around the area, as the place to go to get a flagpole! That’s right, at that time people used these giant wooden trees as flagpoles. Being the dedicated flag and flagpole follower that I am, I did what I do best—I worshipped at the shrine of Google. Following below is the information that I collected for you, so that you can read it all in one place instead of in twenty.

Before the Industrial Revolution flagpoles, or “flagstaffs”, were made out of wood. They were crafted by chopping down a relatively straight tree, then basically whittling it into a pole by removing the limbs and smoothing it, most commonly with an ax or sandpaper. The result was a “flagstaff”. To erect these flagpoles, the tree was simply stuck back into the ground and the flag was attached to the top of the pole. One of the major problems with these early flagpoles was the rot experienced at the base of the pole, where it met the ground and was buried. To improve the lifespan of these poles, crafters later began using animal lard to act as a sealant on the poles. Pines were a very popular tree in the construction of these wooden flagpoles, due to their slimmer, straighter growth patterns. One of the oldest standing wooden flagpoles was located in Glenwood, AZ, and was constructed using this technique. It lasted 52 years. Another wooden flagpole still stands today, in Old Town San Diego.

At the turn of the century, in the late 1800’s, the Industrial Revolution prompted the next step in the evolution of the flagpole. The advent of major machinery and the use of steel led to these same materials being used in the construction of flagpoles. The resulting pole was much more durable with a vastly increased longevity. Manufacturers were also able to increase the height of these poles in ways they had not been able to before and used multiple sections of steel to achieve these heights and to create the first sectional flagpoles. Steel is still used to today for some of the taller flagpoles, which can reach heights of 400 feet and more! In our constant push to improve products and to maintain a competitive edge, manufacturers began using aluminum, fiberglass, and later anodized aluminum to mass-produce. Fiberglass flagpoles are an innovative material as they do not corrode, rust, conduct electricity and can be produced in a wide variety of colors that range from white to yellow, red, green, blue and more.

Since its humble origin as a wooden pole in the ground, the flagpole has come pretty far in its evolution to the sleek, modern metal and fiberglass poles of today. We owe a lot to our wooden flagpoles for holding up the flags of our ancestors, but just as importantly for giving Flagstaff its unique name!

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