Christmas Bulb American Flag
This unique flag was designed and constructed by employees of the Wellsboro Division of the Corning Glass Works (CGW) corporation in 1946 to honor its returning World War II veterans. Design engineer Ellsworth C. Brown, a returning veteran himself, drew the blueprints. The carpentry department then constructed the flag to be placed behind the head table as a one-of-a-kind backdrop in the Penn Wells Hotel’s dining room for CGW’s annual service banquet, which was held in December of that year.
Plant Manager D.J. Carr made two requests of Brown: “Design something patriotic and something that really represents our plant.” At the time Wellsboro’s plant was the largest manufacturer of Christmas tree ornaments in the world, and the banquet was to be held in December. Something needed to be designed with ornaments. And what could be more patriotic than the American Flag?
The blueprint noted where the individual cork-covered pegs were placed to hold each of the 1,438 ornaments on the approximately seven- by eleven-foot waving flag. Since the plant manufactured ornaments in primary colors only, the original design used silver for the white stripes and stars. For the correct balance and number of stars to fit in the allotted space, the blue field needed to be divided by smaller balls than the plant normally made. Luckily, they were manufacturing camera flash bulbs at the time, so they ran a special edition of flashbulbs, silvering and lacquering them in blue. For the stars, they left the bulbs silver.
On the banquet day the majestic flag was transported to the Penn Wells Dining Room and unfurled, just the pizzazz needed that evening for the 200-plus honored CGW veterans. It also caught the eye of the keynote speaker, Amory Houghton, CGW’s Chairman of the Board. The Corning, New York division borrowed the flag for their employee banquet. That same year, it was presented to Max Eckhardt and Sons, Corning’s largest ornament customer, and taken to New York City, where it hung in the Kress Fifth Avenue store to welcome the nation’s American Legion Convention.
The following year it was again brought into our dining room for Wellsboro CGW’s annual service banquet. Wellsboro’s news publication of the time, the Agitator, referred to it as “the now-famous Glass Works Flag.” After the banquet, CGW asked the Penn Wells Hotel if they would like to keep it, as the plant had no place to hang the large flag. It was then installed on the Mary Wells Dining Room’s far wall. Dark blue draperies were hung and drawn to cover the flag on occasion. The plant replaced the ornaments as needed. In 1959, the field of blue would have two silver ornaments added to include the new states of Alaska and Hawaii.
The flag received national notoriety when a special issue on politics was published by Life magazine on July 4, 1960. A double-page Cornell Capa photograph of the flag was taken in 1952, showing Herman T. Schneebeli’s campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives on the title page. The entire community was surprised and pleased to see it.
In the early seventies, the flag was renovated and moved to the Hotel’s lobby, where it remains today. In the ensuing years, Corning sold the Wellsboro division’s plant to General Telephone Electronics (GTE). Light bulbs manufactured for Sylvania replaced the ornaments on the flag for a short time — an unpopular move. The bulbs’ elongated, hand-painted enamel was no match for the more compact and shinier silvered ornaments. Then Osram purchased the plant and Christmas ornaments returned to the flag. Today, Osram continues the tradition of maintaining the ornaments.
The Penn Wells Hotel is proud to say that Wellsboro has always waved its true colors by displaying flags along our street for many national holidays and the State Laurel Festival. Fewer people know the history of the glass bulb flag permanently on display in the Penn Wells, but those who do are proud to include it in Wellsboro’s patriotic history.