Flamingo History

History of the plastic flamingo

Born in September 1957, one of the icons of the American landscape, the pink plastic flamingo, is over 50 years old! But where did it come from?

Would you believe a very serious sculptor and classical art student who needed a job? Although you might believe the plastic flamingo was a figment of the unemployed mind, quite the opposite is true; it was actually a New England plastics company’s idea! (stuffy New England? Yes, New England.)

Don Featherstone, flamingo designer, told us the story.  A self-described starving artist at the time, he was offered a job with Union Products to sculpt three-dimensional versions of the company’s most popular two-dimensional products: the duck and the flamingo. He obtained a live duck to model for him (no, we don’t know how he did that either). Featherstone named him Charlie then later set him free in Cogshall Park when the plastic duck was complete. He said the plastic duck was anatomically correct (and no, we didn’t ask). Not having a live flamingo model, he used pictures and National Geographic Magazine to sculpt his now famous flamingos. It took about two weeks to model both halves of the bird, brought into the third dimension by then-revolutionary injection-mold technology.

When we met Mr. Featherstone in 1993, he told us that his plastic flamingos out-numbered real ones 7 to 10.  Plastic flamingos have adapted very successfully to the modern environment.

Mr. Featherstone was the winner of a 1996 Ig Noble Prize for Art. [Each year, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the editors of the Annals of Improbable Research present their Ig Noble Awards, in a parody of the Nobel awards ceremony.]  Featherstone spent 43 years with the company, rising to the position of president before his retirement in 1999.  He often wore flamingo clothing and was a verbal and visual promoter of the iconic bird.  Sadly, on June 23, 2015, Don Featherstone, flamingo father, died.  Thank you, Don, for all the joy your creation continues to bring.

The present use of the plastic flamingo began in Canada sometime around 1989 and migrated to the U.S. in the early 1990s. During the middle of the night, flocks of 50 flamingos land in someone’s front yard for a birthday, holiday or anytime surprise. They migrate again that evening, only to appear to another yard the next morning. Although the plastic flamingo was originally not a night migrating bird, maybe there is no deterring of destiny. That wonderful pink icon of tackiness is more popular now than ever before!

When the plastic flamingo turned 40, they even got a full page in National Geographic. Nat Geo held a photo contest, the results of which you’ll have to see to believe. Check out the winners on our photo contest page.

Unfortunately, the company who made the original plastic flamingo went out of business in 2006, so they now facing extinction. Fortunately, the remaining birds have landed in Phoenix and will be here for a long time to come. You can even adopt a pair of the original birds directly from us. Each one of Featherstone’s original flamingos bears his signature. You can adopt an American icon.  See our adoption page.