Stihl Dealer Days

Rural Missouri Magazine

Metal of Honor
Local businessman invents a permanent method for displaying the Stars and Stripes

by Jason Jenkins
Organizations around Cuba, including the Knights of Columbus, proudly display Mike Bottom’s AlumaFlag, an all-aluminum flag he created in 2003 that is manufactured using the same materials and machinery that he uses to produce awnings.

Most Americans remember where they were on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mike Bottom is no exception. Working from his home office outside of Cuba, Mo., that fateful Tuesday, he recalls his wife, Jacque, calling him into the kitchen to listen to the first reports of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

“She said, ‘Hey Mike, you might want to come in here. There’s something going on,’” he recalls. “I came in, and we turned on the TV and watched in disbelief like a lot of people that day.”

As details about the terrorist attacks emerged in the days and months that followed, Americans stood resolute. Displays of patriotism emerged everywhere. Red, white and blue were once again the nation’s favorite colors.

“Everyone was buying American flags to fly at their homes and businesses,” says Mike, who operates Aluma Kraft Awning Co., a business his father began in 1946. “There was no place to buy a flag; they were all sold out. Then I had an idea.”

Over the next year and a half, the idea blossomed into what today is known as the AlumaFlag, an all-aluminum American flag that Mike manufactures using the same materials and machinery with which his business produces awnings.

At first, his idea was met with skepticism. He says people couldn’t picture what he was envisioning. So in the spring of 2003, he decided to put one together and mount it on his barn.

“Everybody that came by said, ‘Wow! Where did you get that?’” he says. “One thing led to another, and the next thing we knew, we were in the aluminum flag business.

Mike, a member of Crawford Electric Cooperative, says an aluminum flag offers a number of advantages over traditional fabric ones. It doesn’t require a flagpole, nor does it require daily attention to be raised and lowered. And, because it’s made of metal, the AlumaFlag won’t fade, tatter or tear and need to be replaced.

“The U.S. government statistics tell you that a nylon flag will last about 90 days if displayed in good weather and daytime only,” Mike says. “We guarantee the AlumaFlag for 10 years, and I believe they can last a lot longer than that. We still have awnings we installed in the 1950s that are still in service today.”

The aluminum flag requires little maintenance. Mike recommends that it be cleaned and waxed once a year to protect the baked enamel finish.

Today, Mike offers three sizes of the AlumaFlag, for which he earned a U.S. patent in 2006. The smallest model is the “Patriot.” Measuring 50 inches tall by 88 inches wide, it’s ideal for display on smaller storefronts and buildings.

The “Stars and Stripes,” at 104 inches tall by 178 inches wide, is Mike’s favorite.

Mike's favorite AlumaFlag is the "Stars and Stripes" model, which at 104 inches tall and 178 inches wide can't be missed on the side of any sized building.

“When you put our smallest flag on a really big building, it tends to disappear,” he says. “But this one is big enough to stand out anywhere, and it can still be handled by just two people.”

The largest AlumaFlag is the “All American,” which is so large that Mike measures it in feet rather than inches — 13 feet tall by 23 feet wide.

The flags range in retail price from $450 to about $4,400, though the price fluctuates some with the price of aluminum. Mike says the recent economic downturn has lowered the cost.

While the upfront price may seem steep, it pales in comparison to the replacement costs of flying a fabric flag.

Like others after Sept. 11, Butch Tucker of St. James felt an urge to display his patriotism at his auto dealership, Hutcheson Ford Sales Inc. The dealership purchased a large nylon American flag and attached it to the building. The flag lasted about six months in continuous display before needing replaced at a cost of $500 to $600.

Tucker was considering the installation of a flagpole when Mike learned of the dealership’s need. Eventually, he would build them a custom-made aluminum flag measuring 13 feet tall by 24 feet wide, the largest he’s built to date. After more than five years, Tucker says he’s more than satisfied with his metal flag.

“Without question, if we were to put up a nylon flag of the same size on a flag pole, the expense of the pole itself would be greater than what we paid for this aluminum one, not to mention the cost of replacement flags,” says the car dealer. “It’s worked out real well.”

To date, Mike has sold flags from coast to coast, from Washington and Oregon in the west to Florida in the east. A vast majority of his customers are commercial and retail businesses, municipalities and other organizations; however, others have purchased them to adorn their personal property on barns and other buildings.

In addition to the American flag, Mike has tinkered with producing other flags, such as the Missouri flag and the Christian flag. He said in order to produce a flag, it would need to fit his company’s current tooling.

A few years ago, the company launched the “Stars and Stripes Sponsor Program,” which is a fundraising plan that allows local organizations such as scout troops, athletic boosters and alumni groups to raise funds while purchasing an AlumaFlag to display at a school, ball field or any other public venue.

“It’s a great means of raising funds and creating a lasting memorial for an organization,” Mike says. “After deciding what size AlumaFlag an organization wants to display, the group assigns the dollar value to sponsor each star and each stripe on the flag. It’s nice because you only need 63 sponsors to have a successful fundraising campaign.”

While Mike may produce aluminum flags, he’s not against fabric ones. In fact, he flies a nylon flag at his home.

“I’m just a guy who really loves this country.”

For more information about the AlumaFlag, call 888-296-4644 or go online to www.alumaflag.com.

 

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