It was a grand old flag, but it wasnt a high-flying flag. Most of the time, this star-spangled banner fluttered only a few feet off the ground.

A century ago in Akron, the B.F. Goodrich Co. proudly unfurled an American flag that employees touted as the largest in Ohio if not the largest in the nation. The 48-star banner weighed 375 pounds and measured 50 feet by 70 feet. About 20,000 workers donated pocket change in 1917 to buy the $850 banner (about $16,000 today).

When the United States entered the World War, Goodrich worker William Fox of Department 10-E suggested that employees buy a gigantic flag as a patriotic gesture. Workers began plunking dimes into a red, white and blue box that was carried on a truck through various departments of the Akron factory.

The rubber company announced that the flag would be unveiled Sunday, May 28, 1917, at the dedication of Goodrich Field, a ballpark at Carroll and Beaver streets that later was renamed League Park.

Goodrich invited former President Teddy Roosevelt to speak at the gathering, but he had to bow out. Exceedingly sorry, Roosevelt wired the company. Wish I could accept. Physical impossibility.

Instead, former Ohio Gov.Myron T. Herrick, a Cleveland resident who had served as U.S. ambassador to France, accepted an offer to give the keynote address.

More than 5,000 people marched in a festive parade from Main Street to East Market to Union Street to Buchtel Avenue to Spicer Street to Carroll Street. Military veterans, city dignitaries and brass bands joined the celebration, which included fraternal groups such as the Elks, Moose, Owls, Reindeer, Odd Fellows, Knights Templar, Knights of St. John, Knights of Columbus, American Yeomen, Modern Woodmen and Tribe of Ben Hur.

One parade unit composed of foreign-born citizens walked behind a banner that read: Twenty-Four Nationalities But Americans All.

Tens of thousands of spectators gathered for the flag-raising ceremony at the ballpark.

The vast field was crowded with spectators who came to participate in the patriotic celebration which preceded the raising of the flag, the Beacon Journal reported. On neighboring hills and buildings, those who had been unable to get into the field secured vantage points from which to watch the raising.

Civil War veterans

In his address to the crowd, Gov. Herrick pointed to a small group of Civil War veterans from the Buckley Post of the Grand Army of the Republic.

Back in 61, those were the young boys who answered their countrys call with full ranks and beautiful flags and banners, Herrick said. These are the boys who survived the great struggle. Even though their banners were tattered and torn by the enemys fire, they brought them back safely.

The young boys in khaki are going to do this very thing for their country now on the battlefields of Europe, fighting for the democracy of the world, which this grand old flag of ours has pledged herself to support and see through to a victorious conclusion.

Men took off their hats and bowed their heads while the assemblage sang The Star-Spangled Banner. The awe-inspiring flag was hoisted on a steel wire between two 100-foot staffs.

Let this be a demonstration by the people, of the people and for the stimulating effect that it will have upon the entire nation, Mayor William J. Laub said.

Goodrich thanked the community in an advertisement: The employees of the B.F. Goodrich Company wish to express their hearty appreciation of the wonderful manner in which the people of Akron responded to their invitation to make Sundays great patriotic parade and flag raising ceremony the largest and finest demonstration this city has ever had.

The Goodrich flag as it came to be known was intended to be raised at sunrise every morning and taken down at sunset, but the logistics became impractical. The flag was folded up, placed in a giant box and saved for special occasions.

100-man crews

It was a big attraction in patriotic parades for Liberty Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day and Independence Day. As 100-man crews carried the flag horizontally through the streets, it stretched from curb to curb.

Goodrich took the flag to New York for a Third Liberty Loan parade in April 1918.

As the flag was carried into Fifth Avenue, a traffic policeman tossed a dollar bill into it, and from that point on, the huge sheet was subjected to a constant shower of coins of all denominations, the Rubber Age trade journal reported. When it passed the reviewing stand, it was so heavy that the bearers combined efforts could not prevent it from dragging on the ground.

Organizers counted 3,255 pennies, 3,772 nickels, 1,895 dimes, 2,031 quarters, 334 half dollars and 42 dollar bills. One woman tossed a gold-medal purse later appraised at $135.

Goodrich collected the money, purchased $1,150 in Liberty Loan bonds and donated it to the American Red Cross. From that parade onward, spectators tossed coins onto the Goodrich flag, and the money was donated to charities that helped veterans. More than $8,000 was collected by June 1918 (about $130,000 today).

Other cities borrow

The flag was lent to Cleveland, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, Chicago, St. Louis, Oklahoma City, San Francisco and other cities. Transported in a red, white and blue box, it always found its way back to Akron.

It was a fixture at local parades through World War II. If youre of a certain age, you may have tossed a coin or two on the Goodrich flag. Maybe your parents or grandparents did, too.

New U.S. states

After Alaska and Hawaii became U.S. states in 1959, there wasnt as much demand for a 48-star flag, but the Goodrich flag still was displayed from time to time.

Its final fate remains a mystery today, but one of the banners last publicized appearances was in 1981 during a United Way campaign kickoff event in Akron. The Firestone and Central-Hower bands played America the Beautiful while the giant flag was unfurled across the north lawn of Goodrichs world headquarters.

So proudly Akron hailed at the twilights last gleaming.

Mark J. Price can be reached at 330-996-3850 or mjprice@thebeaconjournal.