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Father of the pink plastic flamingo, Don Featherstone, dies

The plastic pink lawn flamingo is synonymous with 1950s Americana.

Sadly, the creator of the iconic design, Donald Featherstone, died this week. He was 79 years old, and according to his wife, he died from dementia.

Featherstone was a classically trained sculptor who worked for Union Products, a plastics company where he worked for 43 years and invented hundreds of products — but none more well known than the pink plastic flamingo, which he created in 1957. Millions of the birds, which Featherstone reportedly based on a photograph of a flamingo from National Geographic, have been manufactured and sold around the world. In fact, you can still buy those pink plastic flamingos more than 50 years later for about $5 apiece.

Sure, some might say the pink flamingo is tacky. But in post-WWII America, the flamingo was a way to bring a splash of color to homes that started to all look exactly alike. The flamingo was just a bit of whimsical fun.

“You had to mark your house somehow,” Featherstone told Smithsonian Magazine, which did this excellent piece on the history of the pink flamingo in 2012. “A woman could pick up a flamingo at the store and come home with a piece of tropical elegance under her arm to change her humdrum house.”

But as these things do, the pink flamingo went out of style only to later reemerge as a kitschy Americana icon, thanks in no small part to the birds’ treatment in John Waters’ super-subversive 1972 flick Pink Flamingos.

Whether you view them as tacky lawn art or a throwback to a simpler time in America, the plastic pink flamingo has endured. So the next time you buy a flock of them for your next pool party or gift it to the retro-obsessed hipster in your life, remember — that pink plastic bird has quite a history. And we have Don Featherstone to thank for making lawns everywhere just a bit more whimsical and beautiful.

That’s a pretty great legacy. Here’s more on Featherstone.

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