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Inventor of plastic pink flamingo dies at age 79

Don FeatherstoneDon Featherstone
Don Featherstone, creator of the original plastic pink flamingo, sits surrounded by many of the plastic creatures at Union Products, Inc. in Leominster, Mass on June 25, 1998.Photograph by Amy Sancetta — AP

Nearly six decades ago, Don Featherstone changed the face of American suburbia with a small, plastic-molded pink bird. It has graced lawns from California to New York, and countless yards in between. The birds have been the butt of jokes and a “flagrant totem of suburban satisfaction,” as the New York Times put it.

Featherstone, a sculptor, passed away Monday at the age of 79, but his genius invention remains. He created the iconic yard object in 1957, shortly after he graduated from art school. He was simply following the latest and greatest trend: plastics. After he graduated from the school of the Worcester Art Museum, he took a job with Union Products, which made a variety of plastic lawn ornaments.

The pink flamingo was his second assignment at the company, following his creation of a plastic lawn duck, which never quite earned the same ubiquitous placement. It sold in pairs, one flamingo upright, the other pecking at the lawn, for a total of $2.76 at Sears ($23.36 in today’s dollars). A pair can be found today on Amazon for $15.94.

The pink flamingo has inspired countless pop culture moments, including John Waters’ 1972 film Pink Flamingos and Disney’s 2011 animated feature Gnomeo & Juliet. The pink flamingo in the Disney release was aptly named “Featherstone.”

Featherstone, who tended his own flock of 57 plastic flamingos, eventually rose to become the president of Union Products and served in the top role until his retirement in 2000. Beyond his pop culture dominance, he also won an Ig Nobel prize, an annual satirical award for offbeat creations.

Featherstone’s quirkiness extended well beyond his plastic creations. He and his wife were known for wearing matching outfits handmade by his better half, Nancy Featherstone, everyday from the late 1970s onward.