Flying the Flag
Acme Lingo Flagpoles’ 121-year history of innovation
Acme Lingo Flagpoles’ story began 121 years ago in 1897 on the Delaware River in Camden, New Jersey. John E. Lingo was a tugboat captain, and at the time there were 27 spar yards on the river that made wooden ship masts and made repairs when a ship’s mast was broken.
Lingo began the business as an owner of one of these spar yards. One day, he received a different request. He was asked if he could make a wooden flagpole, the process of tapering a piece of wood for a flagpole being similar to making a ship mast. And that request brought him into the flagpole business.
That work has stretched across five generations of the Lingo family, with the company now being run by John E. Lingo’s great-great grandson, Jeff Lingo.
Jeff remembers spending his summers in high school working in the shop where they made the flagpoles. At the time, his father, John E. Lingo Jr., was running the company. “We never really talked about me taking over the business,” Jeff says. “I have four brothers, and we all worked in the shop in the summer. It’s just what you did.”
During Jeff’s junior year in college, his father began to teach him the ins and outs of the business, like how to perform estimates. But it wasn’t until Jeff’s senior year that he began to seriously consider joining the company.
“I thought, maybe I should give this a shot. I graduated college in 1989, joined the firm and have been here ever since.”
In 2007, after his father retired and sold the Camden location, Jeff took over and relocated to Southampton, New Jersey, where the business is now headquartered.
A History of Innovation
A lot has changed during Acme Lingo Flagpoles’ century-crossing history, and the company has had a lot of “firsts.”
While Jeff admits, “Flagpoles are not overly complicated; they’re pretty straightforward,” the company has taken a fairly simple product and made improvements to it throughout the decades.
In the early 1920s, the business that began with wooden flagpoles made the first steel pole by tapering metal. These poles were more durable and resistant to damage from termites and lightning, compared to their wooden counterparts. Eventually, steel took over and wooden flagpoles became obsolete.
Acme Lingo Flagpoles didn’t stop there. It was also the first company to make stainless steel flagpoles and the first to make bronze flagpoles. The company then began building aluminum flagpoles—a less costly version of stainless steel or bronze that wouldn’t rust. Today, these aluminum poles are a majority of their market.
The family’s work hasn’t always been limited to flagpoles. When the first television came out, RCA approached the firm to create its first antenna. “RCA knew we were a pole maker, so they approached us to build a pole that could broadcast pictures through the air,” Jeff explains.
It was brand-new technology and something that had never been done before, but Acme Lingo Flagpoles was up to the task. The company built their first antenna in 1939 and continued producing them until around 2000.
Today, Acme Lingo Flagpoles is still innovating. The company recently launched a new product: an automatic flagpole.
Acme Lingo Flagpoles has partnered with another company, Automated Flagpole, which has created a motorized flagpole system operated on a photocell motor. At sunset, the automatic flagpole’s motor turns on to lower the flag, which is stored inside the pole for the night. At daybreak, the motor automatically raises the flag.
It’s the perfect solution for towns that have multiple flagpoles that need tending to and saves a lot of time and effort.
As Jeff explains, “A town that has a lot of parks, for instance, might have 10 to 15 flagpoles that need to have their flags taken down at night. They’d have to have someone in a truck drive around the town to make sure all the flags are taken down and stored and then put up again the next day.”
Acme Lingo Flagpoles has been selling the automatic flagpole for about five years now, and the company is currently working on new, cutting-edge technology. The plan is to provide software that allows the automatic flagpole to also operate via an app or personal computer. This will be particularly useful for lowering the flag to half-staff when needed.
“Though the automatic flagpole technology has been around for a while, we’re taking it to the next level, and that’s exciting,” Jeff says.
A Global Name
Over the years, the Lingo family name has become synonymous with flagpoles. Their flagpoles can be found everywhere: schools, office buildings, hotels, commercial businesses, memorials and government buildings across the globe.
They’ve also provided several high-profile flagpoles: the bronze flagpole at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., is an Acme Lingo Flagpoles creation, as are the two stainless steel flagpoles at the United States Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia.
One particularly special project was when the company was asked to produce five stainless steel flagpoles for the new World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York City.
“The poles were elliptical in shape, but also tapered,” explains Jeff. “It was a unique project for us and was a long time in the works.”
The flagpole at the United States Embassy in Saudi Arabia also bears the Acme Lingo name.
“When people ask me what I do, they kind of chuckle when I tell them,” Jeff says. “But then they say they’ve never really thought about the fact that someone has to create the flagpole.”
Jeff explains that the Acme Lingo name can be found on the cleat of the flagpole, marking it as one of theirs. “When I tell people this, they’ll start looking for it. I’ve had someone tell me, ‘I was at Duke University at the football game, and I went to the flagpole and saw your name.’ ”
Jeff’s hope is that the Lingo name that’s been attached to the company for five generations will continue to live on in the future. Jeff’s 18-year-old son has worked the last two summers at the business, like Jeff did. But just as Jeff’s father never forced him into the family business, he says his son is free to take whatever path in life he wants, whether it’s becoming the sixth generation Lingo to run the company or doing something different.
Either way, Jeff would love to see the business continue, and he credits much of its success to the employees, some of whom have been with the business for many years.
“Each one of our employees is extremely talented and committed to what they do. I’ve always felt employees are the reason a business succeeds, especially in a small business.”
He adds, “Nobody comes here with flagpole experience. You have to have an open mind and be willing to learn. But once you’re here for a while, you’ll become a flagpole expert.”