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A Festivus for the rest of us

By Emily Vasquez

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Wagner Companies caters to popular fictional holiday

December 2014 - Festivus is a time to air grievances, demonstrate feats of strength and promptly set up unadorned aluminum poles. For those who aren’t familiar with Festivus celebrations or who aren’t fans of the 1990s sitcom “Seinfeld,” this holiday may sound foreign.

Festivus is a secular holiday celebrated on Dec. 23, an alternative created by the fictional “Seinfeld” personality Frank Costanza who, to protest the pressures of holiday madness, invented the holiday and forced his family to partake in his fabricated rituals.

The Seinfeld episode “The Strike” aired in 1997, with the intention to mock Americans’ ravenous behavior during annual shopping marathons like Black Friday. Yet today many Americans have adopted the celebration and continue to protest the commercialization of the season, exhibit diehard fanaticism or just for a good laugh. 

The Wagner Companies, Milwaukee, manufactures and supplies architectural metal railings systems, components and, yes, Festivus poles. In 2004, Tony Leto, its executive vice president, approached owner Bob Wagner with the unusual idea to have a little fun while making use of the aluminum pipe left over from previous projects. 

“Being that we are in the metal business, we have a lot of aluminum pipe around, so I went to Wagner and asked ‘Hey, can we do this? We may not make a lot of money out of it but we’ll certainly have a lot of fun and get some publicity,’” shares Leto.

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Given the green light to proceed, Wagner purchased the web domain, www.festivuspoles.com and licensed the term. Leto admits fabricating the Festivus pole was the simplest part of expanding the business.

“All we did was take [1-1/2 in. extruded] aluminum pipe, cut it into 6 ft. pieces [and] then use our waterjet to create a base that interlocks so it could stand up,” explains Leto. The Festivus pole is meant to stand unadorned, as “tinsel can be distracting,” according to Frank Costanza. 

Wagner never suspected the Festivus craze would last long, selling only “a couple hundred,” the first year. The following year the Associated Press published an article about Festivus causing sales to grow to 1,000 units. “The popularity has not gone away. We figured we’d get about 2 to 3 years out of it and it’s been almost 10 years and every year we continue to build up traffic.”

Since its inception, Wagner has seen steady sales and received orders from all over the world, some even willing to pay up to $200 in shipping fees, five times the price of a 72-in. Festivus pole. 

Wagner now offers various Festivus pole sizes, including an 8-in. desktop version, a 32-in. tabletop model and a 72-in. floor model. Each pole comes with the option to purchase Festivus, The Holiday for the Rest of Us, a book commemorating the unorthodox holiday. 

Seinfeld went off air 16 years ago, but Leto thinks that Festivus celebrations aren’t going away anytime soon. As a manufacturer of architectural railings, Wagner has all the tools to maintain modest prices despite any economic fluctuation. They hope to continue to ride the wave of popularity they never expected to last this long. 

“As a fan [of Seinfeld], I thought it was something we could do. Fortunately, the owner has a very good sense of humor.” FFJ

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