Today in 1940, the birthday of the world’s number one flag expert: Whitney Smith, who not only studied flags his entire life, he invented the word for studying flags.

That term is vexillology, which combines the Latin word for flag with the Greek suffix for the study of something.

He came up with this now-widely accepted term as a teenager: by that point he was already more than a decade into his obsession with flags.

As a very young kid in Massachusetts, he used to tell work crews on the Patriots Day holiday how to raise all the state flags in order of their admission to the Union.

He would pore through books and almanacs that had flags in them, and when he couldn’t find the flag of a lesser-known country, he’d write to them to ask about it.

Smith’s doctoral dissertation was on political symbolism.

After teaching at Boston University for a time, he left because as he put it, “I wanted to play flags.”

By the end of his life he had done a lot of “playing”: he published his own journal called the Flag Bulletin, wrote books, articles and encyclopedia entries about flags.

He even ended up designing a few flags along the way.

When Guyana was about to become independent, he wrote to the authorities and asked if they had a plan for their national flag.

They wrote back and said, not yet, do you have any ideas?

Smith sent back a prototype, a flag of golden and red triangles on a green background that his mother had sewed.

Guyana adopted a design very similar to the one Smith had proposed.

He even got to attend the ceremony where they raised the newly independent country’s new banner.

Good thing they didn’t decide to flag his suggestion for later.

A company in Japan is making fabric out of apples!

Studio Sozai Center is transforming waste from apples into an organic, sturdy, washable fabric.

It’s also translucent, so you maybe should have some other layers on if you’re wearing it.

When the World Runs Something New Up the Flagpole, Scholar Whitney Smith Is First to Salute (People)

Whitney Smith, Whose Passion for Flags Became a Career, Dies at 76 (New York Times)

adam sheet is a translucent and washable fabric made of recycled apple waste (designboom)

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Photo by Márcio Cabral de Moura via Flickr/Creative Commons