American Heritage: Pacific Northwest Style
There’s something attractive about brands who stick with their old-time commitment to making solid product that doesn’t change with every passing trend. Quality always looks good, and a product that focuses on workmanship will always be a classic. The Pacific Northwest is home to a handful of heritage brands that have weathered the fads and consistently deliver classic style.
Pendleton Woolen Mills
Employees wrapped in blankets at Pendleton Mills in 1910. Creative Commons.
Pendleton Woolen Mills has been a family business ever since an English weaver named Thomas Kay made his way from England to the Atlantic seaboard to Oregon via ship, foot, burro, and yet another ship. After managing the weaving operations of one of Oregon’s first woolen mills, Kay went into business for himself. He ran his first mill with the help of his daughter Fannie, a scrappy, smart manager. Her three sons opened the original Pendleton Woolen Mills in Pendleton, Oregon, a railroad hub with easy access to eastern Oregon’s large sheep population. They scoured raw wool and wove blankets to sell to the nearby Nez Perce tribe. After a rocky start, the brothers engaged in some old-fashioned market research and learned the colors and styles that would sell. Their blankets moved, and business grew.
The brothers built a new mill in Washougal, Washington where they could weave finer wool for shirts and suiting, and by 1924, Pendleton Mill’s virgin wool shirts were everywhere—the line expanded to include a full men’s sportswear line. Building on decades of growth and the post-war boom, a women’s line, flag-shipped by the iconic 49er jacket, was added in 1949. Pendleton has grown and diversified, but they still manufacture clothing and blankets in their Pendleton and Washougal mills, and today’s Pendleton Mills is headed by the great-great grandsons of Thomas Kay himself.
While Stanley didn’t start out in the Northwest (it’s New England born), it makes its home in Seattle and represents a long history of innovation and American heritage. It’s the bottle our granddads carried through wars and workdays. It’s the thermos our moms and dads had in their lunchboxes. (Why did we ever stop taking lunch boxes to work?) In 1913 inventor William Stanley Jr. was working with vacuum seals and transformers and figured out a welding process that he could use to insulate a vacuum bottle with steel instead of glass. He nailed down a patent, and by 1915 he was mass-producing the Stanley bottle. Stanley bottles became popular with railroad workers, budding airlines, ocean liners, and anyone who liked their coffee hot and their bottles not in shattered pieces.
The crews of WWII B-17 Bombers started carrying Stanley bottles, and the tough little bottle became a military staple. Over the years, Stanley has managed to incorporate new technology like recycled materials and BPA-free plastics, but they stick close to their old-school beginnings. And for most of us, those green thermoses mean more than warm hot chocolate—they mean history.
C.C. Filson left his Nebraska homestead and headed for Seattle in the late 1890s just in time for the Klondike Gold Rush. He didn’t mess around with all that panning for gold business—he built a legacy outfitting the Alaska-bound fortune seekers instead. In 1897 Filson opened “C.C. Filson’s Pioneer Alaska Clothing and Blanket Manufacturers.” It’s a lot to fit on a sign, but his commitment to workmanship and his not-so-subtle reminders that, in Alaska, the quality of your gear could mean the difference between survival and an icy death kept him in business. Filson touched base with the gold hunters as they returned from the mud and snow, and used their feedback to make better gear.
As the gold dried up, C.C. Filson turned his attention to the loggers who were harvesting the timber that would frame the young cities of the West. His Cruiser jacket, patented in 1914, was one of C.C. Filson’s personal designs. You can still buy one today, and they’re still made in Seattle just a few blocks from Filson’s original shop.