Remembering Donald Featherstone, inventor of plastic lawn flamingos

The plastic lawn flamingo: a famous staple of mid-century American, lawn life. You’ve probably seen them all over yards throughout your lifetime, or perhaps you even have a few yourself. Maybe you even put a ton of them in the backyard of your Sim because hey, why not. If you do have a plastic lawn flamingo, pay it a visit in honor of Donald Featherstone, the creator of the pink icon. Sadly, he passed away on Monday at the age of 79 after a long battle with Lewy body dementia.

Donald designed the very first plastic pink flamingo back in 1957, when he had just finished art school, and was working for a plastic lawn ornament company called Union Products. His pink flamingo quickly became one of those unexpected and lasting cultural icons that continues to spark countless memories and happiness feelings for so many people. “We sold people tropical elegance in a box for less than $10,” Donald told the Chicago Tribune on the flamingo’s 50th anniversary. “Before that, only the wealthy could afford to have bad taste.” LOL.

The first plastic animal Donald designed was a duck. After the duck, Union Products wanted a flamingo. “It was tough to find one around here to use as a model,” Donald joked to the Tribune. “But as luck would have it, National Geographic came out with a story titled ‘Ballerinas in Pink.’” Donald chose two images —one flamingo with its head up, and the other with its head down — because he planned to sell them in pairs. Then, it took him a couple of weeks to sculpt the bodies in clay.

The rest is history. Once the ornaments were made, the flamingo totally blew up in popularity. Suddenly, the pink birds where all over the place, peering at you on top of wire legs around every corner. The popularity of the iconic plastic flamingo shocked Donald, to say the least. “All of a sudden your kid is playing Carnegie Hall when he never even hummed for years,” he told the Tribune back in 2007. “I still don’t understand it . . . At one point, we were selling a million flamingos a year. I guess the more you publicize something, the more people realize they have to have what they don’t really need.”

His favorite design wasn’t the flamingo, though. “You can’t help but like the flamingo because it was the successful child,” he explained to the Tribune. “But I also liked the white planter swan, which actually sold better than the flamingo. But no one ever writes about the plastic swan. That hurts its little plastic feelings, but what can you do?” Even though the flamingo wasn’t his fave, he still had 57 in his yard to commemorate the year they were created (in the backyard, so the college students in his neighborhood didn’t steal them).

Clearly, Donald was a joker with a great sense of humor. He and his wife, Nancy, (the duo always dressed in matching outfits made by Nancy, BTW — OUR HEARTS!), had a blast together. “It was a great ride,” Nancy said in an interview, according to the Boston Globe. “You know, Donald always said, ‘You don’t take yourself too seriously because you’re not getting out alive anyway.’ ”

In 1986, Donald told People in an interview, “I’d be happy to be remembered as the man who did the pink flamingo.” He will certainly be remembered for much more than that, but an ornament that’s brought happiness to millions? That’s not a bad legacy, at all.

Rest in peace, Donald. We salute the plastic flamingo in your honor.

[Images via Shutterstock]