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One of the best sources on the history of pink flamingos is the story "The Plastic Pink Flamingo: A Natural History" by Jennifer Price.  The story appears on pages 73 - 88 of the Spring, 1999 issue of the American Scholar (volume 68, number 2).  

So tacky, yet so cool.

The pink flamingo is one of those objects that people seem to either love or hate.   Considered by some to be a work of art and to others to be visual pollution, this one object stands for everything that is good and bad about our modern society.

Lawn ornaments are nothing new.  From marble statues created centuries ago to the Granny Fannies of the late 1980’s, lawn decorations have been around for an eternity.  Some compare a lawn without any ornaments to be like a coffee table that is totally empty.  (I can't comment here.  My coffee table was empty for years.  Now it is covered with junk.)

The history of the pink flamingo can be traced back to 1946 when a company called Union Products started manufacturing “Plastics for the Lawn”.  Their collection included dogs, ducks, frogs, and even a flamingo.  But their products had one problem: They were only two-dimensional.

Hmmm…  World peace surely depended on solving this critical problem.

In 1956, the Leominster, Massachusetts company decided to hire a young designer named Don Featherstone.  Although Don was a serious sculptor and classical art student, his first project was to redesign their popular duck into the third dimension.  (One must do what they can to pay the bills.)  Don used a live duck as his model and after five months of work, the duck was retired to a local park. 

His next project would prove to be his most famous.  He couldn't get his hands on real flamingos, so he used photographs from a National Geographic in its place.  He sculpted the original out of clay, which was then used to make a plaster cast.  The plaster cast, in turn, was used to form the molds for the plastic.  The original design called for detailed wooden legs, but they proved to be too costly and were replaced by the metal ones still seen today.  While the exact date was never recorded, the first pink flamingo was born some time during 1957. 

The late 1950’s just happened to be perfect timing for the flamingo.  America was moving to the suburbs.  Industry was convincing America that a natural lawn was one that was mowed and treated with chemicals.  And, every lawn needed a lawn ornament.

But an empty lawn wasn't the only thing in the flamingo's favor.  The country was much more mobile and an increasing number of people were traveling to the many hotels, motels, and lounges named after the flamboyant flamingo.  The 1950’s was also a time for bright, bold colors.  Common colors had been around for years, but plastics now allowed for hot colors like bright green, vivid ruby, and, of course, hot flamingo pink.   Pink refrigerators, washing machines, and (obviously) Cadillacs were highly sought after.

The 1960’s were not as friendly to the pink flamingo.  There was a rebellion against everything man made.  It was a time to go back to nature.  The plastic flamingo quickly became the prototype of bad taste and anti-nature.  By 1970, even Sears had removed the pink-feathered bird from its catalog. 

It looked like our fake-feathered friend’s days were numbered.  But time was on this bird's side.  Some people just love to do things that annoy people.  You know: If you are not supposed to do something, you do it just to annoy others.  If pink flamingos were the ultimate in bad taste, then people were sure to place them on their lawn to bug their neighbors.  And they did so in great numbers.

When I first started college back in 1981, I went to see a movie titled Pink Flamingos.  My recommendation is that you never, ever see this 1972 flick.  It is the most disgusting movie ever made.  You'll probably vomit long before it ends.  (My girlfriend back then certainly did!)  Yet, this movie clearly marks the time at which the pink flamingo moved from lawn junk to lawn art. 
In 1984, Miami Vice kicked the sales of pink flamingos into full throttle.  For the first time ever, Union Plastics sold more flamingos than they did ducks.  Today they are sold for just about every purpose.  They are purchased for use as wedding decorations, housewarming gifts, and as replacements for reindeer at Christmas time. 

Some people actually travel with their pink flamingos.  The plastic birds go camping, hiking, skiing, and mountain biking.  Entire web sites are devoted to the travels of these artificial creatures.

Pink flamingos have also become a prime target of pranksters.  Many are stolen off lawns every year, particularly by kids that have been drinking a wee bit too much.  Others are kidnapped and held for ransom.  One particular pair was kidnapped and had their ransom paid in play money.

We all know that what is art to one person is garbage to the next.  Bans have been placed on pink flamingos all over the country.  As a result, Union Plastics was forced to introduce a blue flamingo to circumvent the rules.   Of course, these communities then changed the laws to ban all plastic flamingos.  (That's when I would paint my house purple.)

Should you wish to purchase these decorations, they are readily available.  Hundreds of thousands are sold each year in stores and through mail order.  Authentic flamingos always have Don Featherstone’s signature under their tails.  Each has a yellow beak with a black tip and they are only sold in pairs.

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