Over the last decade a surreal battle has played out across the globe: The race to build the world’s tallest flagpole.
Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Jordan, and the UAE have all held the record at one point — locked in a bizarre nationalist rivalry pushing flagpoles ever-taller.
Two Americans have profited handsomely from this competition. Their company, Trident Support, has been responsible for five of the last six record-breaking flagpoles built over the last 10 years.
Last year, I spoke to Trident founders David Chambers and Marc Summers, to find out how they managed to build and command a market for flagpoles that defy gravity.
I first heard about Trident while working in Tajikistan in 2013. At 165 metres, the Dushanbe flagpole was the tallest in the world at the time. It reportedly cost up to $40 million (£25 million), according to ABC News.
Locals loved it! Situated in a vast Presidential complex, it seemed like a vanity project, but Tajiks I spoke to regarded it as a real symbol of national pride.
'If you'd told me 15 years ago that we were going to be building flagpoles as our primary business, I would have said you were crazy,' Summers said.
The pair originally worked in defence logistics. But then a 'fairly influential' person in the UAE approached them and asked for a flagpole -- the largest in the world.
After that the Royal Hashemite Court in Jordan came knocking to ask for their own (127 meters), and it just went from there. They quit their day jobs, and went full-time flag building.
Guinness World Records ended up creating a new category for what Trident was building: 'unsupported flagpoles.'
North Korea at one point claimed to hold the world record for the world's tallest flagpole, at 160 meters. It wasn't built by Trident, and isn't what you'd consider an 'unsupported' flagpole. (According to Summers it's 'just a radio tower with a flag on top.')
Ashgabat's record was broken by the 162-meter National Flagpole in Baku, Azerbaijan, completed in 2007. Trident Support built it too.
Chambers said Azerbaijan is one of the 'craziest' jobs the company has ever done. The capital of Baku is one of the windiest cities on earth. 'It took us months, simply due to delays with the wind,' Chamber said. 'You'd get one section up, then a windstorm would hit and last for two weeks and we could do nothing.'
In 2011, Baku was overtaken by the 165-meter flagpole in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Yep -- Trident built that one as well.
Here's Summers accepting the Guinness World Record for the world's tallest flagpole with Emonali Rahmon, the President of Tajikistan.
Not every flag they build in their 'Monumental' and 'Stately' flagpole lines are record-breakers. This one is in Kalba in the UAE is a mere minnow -- just 75 meters tall.
Chambers thinks it's patriotism that drives the race for the world's highest flagpole. 'I thought Americans were patriotic, but when it comes to the biggest and the highest, you cannot beat the natural pride of people in this part of the world.'
Unfortunately, Trident Support doesn't hold the current record. That belongs to the Jeddah Flagpole (171 meter) in Saudi Arabia. It was built by the Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiative in 2014.
Here's that visualised -- including the Jeddah flagpole, Trident's first in the UAE, and some of the world's tallest buildings.
Despite this setback, Trident really is the market leader for giant flagpoles. On the company's website, it boasts it has 'built more flagpoles taller than 75 metres than all the other companies in the world combined.'
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.