The creator of the plastic lawn flamingo, Don Featherstone, passed away yesterday at the age of 79. In honor of the man that brought these joyful little creatures into the world, let’s take a trip back to 1957. That’s the year that Featherstone first designed the now-ubiquitous pink plastic birds. Featherstone, a 21-year-old sculptor and artist fresh out of school, had just been hired by Leominster, Massachusetts-based Union Products plastics company to help them transition from producing flat plastic objects to now also creating three dimensional objects, with one of his first assignments being to design a plastic duck. In that instance, Featherstone was able to bring in a live duck to model the design after, but when he was asked to then create a flamingo, they were not as readily available in Massachusetts as ducks. Instead, Featherstone modeled the flamingo lawn ornament after a photograph he found in National Geographic. The flamingos became a popular item for the company up until the business closed in 2006. At that time, the Featherstone-designed flamingo mold and copyrights were purchased, and the original designs are now produced by the Cado Company, another Massachusetts-based business specializing in molding plastics.
Before retiring in 2000, Featherstone spent 43 years at Union Products, rising through the ranks to ultimately become president of the company. Over the years, Featherstone embraced his role as the father of the flamingo lawn ornament, and also became known for his quirky fashion sense, dressing in matching outfits with his wife, Nancy, for over 30 years. Nancy would make the matching clothing herself.
In an interview with the Leominster Champion newspaper, Featherstone stated: “I loved what I did, it’s all happy things. You have to figure, my creations were not things people needed in life, we had to make them want them. Things I did made people happy, and that’s what life is all about.”