The Suitcase Lady


September 1, 2015, 4:24 pm

The New York Times recently ran a rosy hued obituary. Don Featherstone, the man who invented the pink flamingo lawn ornament, died this summer at 79.

Mr. Featherstone, who called his creation Phoenicopterus ruber plasticus, was a graduate of the Worcester Art Museum school. Plastic was taking over the world in those days. So immediately after graduation in 1957, he took a job at Union Products, a firm in Leominster, Massachusetts, that made plastic lawn ornaments. He remained there for the next 43 years, eventually becoming president and part owner.

His first assignment was to make a 3D duck. He bought a real duck, named it Charlie, studied it for six weeks and sculpted the product. The duck lawn ornament was a hit, so his bosses suggested another bird assignment……flamingos. This time Mr. Featherstone relied on National Geographic photos for models. The finished product sold in the Sears Catalog for  $2.76 a pair and came with instructions: “Place in garden, lawn, to beautify landscape.” The rest is history.

His iconic birds have won many honors. In 1996, Mr. Featherstone was presented an Ig Noble Award, an annual prize honoring unusual achievements. And in 2009, the Madison, Wisconsin, City Council made the pink plastic flamingo the city’s official bird. ( This action came shortly after 1,ooo of the birds mysteriously appeared on the University’s Bascom Hill one morning.)

Don Featherstone led a happy, humble and zany life. He and his wife, Ruth, kept a flock of 57 plastic flamingos in their yard each summer. For the last 37 years, he and Ruth have worn matching, themed clothes each day, all sewn by Ruth.

On the event of the flamingos’ golden anniversary, Mr Featherstone quipped,”We sold tropical elegance in a box for less than $10. Before that, only the wealthy could afford to have bad taste.”


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