All posts by Athm Admin

ATHM Seeks to Close

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that due to a significant financial deficit, the American Textile History Museum will be forced to permanently close our doors.

This was a very difficult decision for all involved and certainly not the outcome we had hoped and worked for. However, due to serious operational challenges and financial shortfalls, our Board of Trustees has realized that this is the only responsible option.

Read more about this difficult decision.

From the first spinning mill to today’s nanotechnology, the textile industry has been at the forefront of innovation, entrepreneurship and fashion. And ATHM has been at the forefront of telling that story.

Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution, this Museum has been an invaluable  resource of knowledge about an industry that helped define the course of this country. ATHM holds the world’s largest and most important publicly held collections of tools, spinning wheels, hand looms, and early production machines, as well as more than five million pieces of textile prints, fabric samples, rolled textiles coverlets, and costumes.   The Osborne Library alone contains more than 90,000 items including books, manuscripts, periodicals, trade literature postcards, and images.

ATHM is continuing to gratefully accept donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations to support the thousands of curatorial hours necessary to ensure the proper care of collections as they are prepared to be transferred to other organizations that can provide faithful and long-term stewardship.

We are asking that all who share a love of and concern for America’s history and heritage help us preserve and protect the Museum’s unparalleled collection of American artifacts.

Warm regards,

Todd Smith
Interim Executive Director

Ciba Review, Part 3: Flabbergasting Fabrics

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

With this third and final blog post on the Ciba Review, a periodical held by ATHM’s Osborne Library, we conclude our series on this richly deserving resource.  CIBA, a Swiss textile dye company established in the mid-1800s, published its journal from 1937 to 1975, covering a comprehensive array of textile industry subjects from ancient to modern times.  Our last post paid homage to CIBA’s founding as a dye company by exploring natural dyes. However, the Review focused many, many more of its issues on a subject of even greater variety: fabric types.

Throughout history, humans have created textiles out of an amazing range of fibers, from the spun wool of sheep and silk of moths to cotton, flax, hemp, and jute.  We’ve even scraped the insides of coconuts to weave together their fibrous inner strands, creating a material known as coir.  Browsing through just a few issues of the Review instills a sense of amazement at the breadth of human ingenuity and resourcefulness when it comes to fabric making.  Since the industrial era began, of course, our creativity has known even fewer bounds, and today we can produce in a lab strands of fiber with whatever physical properties we might desire for our cloth.

However, even before the age of science, in the quest to create new fibers, humans experimented with some surprising materials.  One of these—the tinkering with which has resulted in a number of “accidental” technological advances—is glass.

 

Glass fibers

It’s hard to imagine glass in any form being envisioned for use in textiles, but thanks to our species’ never-ending pursuit of novel decorative effects to dazzle the eye, it was.  It took many thousands of years, however, to refine the material into thin enough strands for textile use.  A 1965 Review article, “Glass Filaments and Textiles,” explains that the ancient Egyptians created the first glass filaments around 1600 BC.  They did so by drawing out rods of glass to about the thickness of a pencil, then re-heating them and thinning them out again into tiny filaments.  As the Review notes, their contribution was seminal—not just to the refinement of glass but to synthetic fiber production itself:  “Although coarse, these filaments are without a doubt to be regarded as the first synthetic fibres made by the hand of man.”

In ancient times, glass filaments were used to decorate vases and other glass vessels.  Venetian glassmakers of the 16th and 17th centuries refined them even more, and by the early 18th century a French scientist named Réaumur had found a way to make glass filaments “finer than those of silk but… only very short.”  They were intended for use in imitation heron feathers.  One of the first uses of glass filaments as textile fibers is reported in 1842.  Their production employed a mechanical spinneret—possibly the first use of this technology that later became “basic for all synthetic fibres,” according to the Review.  By and large, however, their use was still limited to lace-work, ladies’ hats, lampshades, and wall coverings (though thanks to the already well known insulating properties of glass, they were also at this time being incorporated into garments used to treat rheumatism and gout).

“Produced in Paris in 1839, this imitation gold brocade used glass fibers to imitate the sheen of the real thing.”  From Ciba Review, 1963/5.

Produced in Paris in 1839, this imitation gold brocade used glass fibers to replicate the sheen of the real thing. From Ciba Review, 1963/5. ATHM Accn #2015.33.114

 

The first—and practically last—pieces of regular clothing to use glass fibers were created by a Toledo, Ohio, glassmaker named Edward Drummond Libbey.  His famous glass dress, made for Georgia Cayvan, an American stage star, featured a silk warp and a glass thread weft.  Shown at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, it created a brief worldwide sensation, though unsurprisingly it was too stiff and fragile to be wearable in everyday life.

“Edward Drummond Libbey’s temporarily world-famous glass-fiber dress and matching glass-fiber parasol.” From Ciba Review, 1963/5.

Edward Drummond Libbey’s temporarily world-famous glass-fiber dress and matching glass-fiber parasol. From Ciba Review, 1963/5.

 

Today, fiberglass is put to many industrial uses thanks to its insulative and other unique physical properties.  The processes used to make glass fibers not only resulted in that innovation, but also were highly instrumental in the development of modern synthetic fiber manufacturing in general.


The term “textile,” of course, broadly refers to woven materials.  But humans have also made great use of naturally occurring sheet-like materials to cover themselves and their surroundings.  While the most obvious of these is the wide-ranging category of animal skins, another, lesser-known category comprises the many varieties of tree bark.

 

Bark fabrics

The Ciba Review focuses a number of its issues on this category of material.  Along with clothing made of leaves or strips of leaves (usually aprons and the like), bark fabrics originated among the native peoples in areas where the warmth of animal skins was not needed, but protection from rain sometimes was.  This includes the islands of the South Pacific and North America’s Northwest region, as well as parts of Africa and Central and South America.

2015-33-24-women of Bada, p1172

Captioned by the Review, “Women of Bada (Central Celebes),” this image shows the bark fabrics of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, composed “for the most part of fuja.” From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

 

In general, it was not actually bark but bast—bark’s inner layer, thinner and more flexible—that was used (although bark itself was sometimes used for protective wear and war clothing).  Not all trees had an internal structure with a suitable bast: mulberry, ficus, lime, birch, cedar, and sycamore trees were among those that did.  In Hawaii, several of these varieties were cultivated in large numbers especially for use in clothing.  The production of these fabrics was slow and labor-intensive.  First, the bast was soaked in water.  Then it was scraped and pounded until it was very thin and flexible.  Finally, it was decorated.  Various techniques were used, including dyeing, painting, and printing, often resulting in very elaborate patterns.

“A Samoan woman rubbing dye onto a piece of bark cloth held taut over a wooden matrix.”  From Ciba Review, #33, 1940.  ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

A Samoan woman rubbing dye onto a piece of bark cloth held taut over a wooden matrix. From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

 

“Swatches of bark cloth from the South Pacific islands.”  From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24

Swatches of bark cloth from the South Pacific islands. From Ciba Review, #33, 1940. ATHM Accn #2015.33.24


We hope you’ve enjoyed this small selection of points of interest within the Ciba Review.  Though we’ll soon turn our attention back to other items in ATHM’s collection, the core message of this blog series bears re-emphasizing: simply put, the usefulness of this journal to textile researchers can’t be overstated.  With its broad coverage of subjects, eras, and regions of textile production—from ancient tanning methods through 20th-century technological advances—the Review offers thorough and consolidated expertise to those lucky enough to thumb through its pages.

Ciba Review, Part 2: The Colorful History of Natural Dyes

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

Our last blog post took a brief introductory look at the textile dye chemical manufacturer, Company for Chemical Industry Basel (CIBA), and its journal, held in ATHM’s library, the Ciba Review. To offer only one post about such an information-rich resource as the Review would scarcely be doing it justice, and yet the same might be said of exploring only a small sample of its contents. Choosing to err on the side of the latter, here we offer a second installment, surveying a topic that is, unsurprisingly, covered in quite a few issues of the Review: dyes.

In 1859, when CIBA was first established, the millennia-long age of natural dyes was coming to a relatively abrupt close. Scientists at the dawn of the industrial era had begun to discover chemical alternatives to natural dyes that were just as vivid and long lasting, but much cheaper to produce. CIBA itself was founded for the production of fuchsine, a synthetic silk dye. As its name hints, fuchsine produced a fuchsia, or strong purplish red, hue; its name was chosen for the natural source it emulates, the flowers of the plant genus Fuchsia.

The history of the natural dye industry is among the historical topics detailed in the pages of the Ciba Review. Within this subject area a full spectrum of issues is investigated, from the growth of the European dye industry to trade centers and color symbolism in various cultures. There are also entire issues devoted to the natural sources, both plant and animal, used to make dyes of all colors before chemical alternatives were found. Following is but a sample of those included.

Woad: This flowering plant, described in the Review as “the most important dye of the Middle Ages,” was grown throughout Asia and Europe. It came to be regarded as a universal dye because in its initial state of high concentration within the vat, it could be used to turn fabrics black; on subsequent dippings it lightened, turning items gradually lighter shades of blue, then green, and finally, with the addition of red, purple.

 

Isatis tinctora, commonly called woad or glastum, was sometimes also known as Asp of Jerusalem. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.36.1

Isatis tinctora, commonly called woad or glastum, was sometimes also known as Asp of Jerusalem. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.36.1

 

Madder and Turkey Red: These dyes were both sourced from the dried and powdered roots of the genus Rubia. Madder-root dyes, which were at the center of a booming industry in Europe for centuries, imbued fabrics with a deep ruby red. Turkey red dye, which originated in its namesake country, was also derived from madder-root. Giving yarns a more brilliant red than madder alone, its creation required multiple, complicated processes involving added oils and minerals.

Purple: The December 1937 issue of the Review is devoted to the subject of purple dyes. In ancient times, the color was often derived from the juice of various species of the purpura shellfish (so named for the reddish-purple shade of the shells’ inside). Purple from this source was extremely expensive to produce, as the shellfish were only useful at a certain time of year and it took very many of them to produce a small amount of dye. For these reasons, purple fabrics came to be among “the costliest articles of luxury,” and thus the color of royalty.

 

Although printed in the journal in black and white, the original of this painting showed off the color of the dye from the purpura shellfish. The creatures’ juice appeared yellow at first, but turned purple when exposed to sunlight. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.36.4

 

Scarlet: The original source for scarlet dyes, which outdid madder-root dyes in brilliance and intensity, were two different species of the shield-louse parasite: the cochineal insect and the kermes insect. Both were picked by hand from plants cultivated especially for the purpose, and then killed by drowning in a vinegar bath. As with purple dyes, the painstaking process by which these dyes were produced made them very expensive and therefore available only to the wealthiest.

 

The cochineal insect, native to Mexico, was soon recognized by Spanish conquistadors as superior to their own kermes for dye-making. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.33.3

The cochineal insect, native to Mexico, was soon recognized by Spanish conquistadors as superior to their own kermes for dye-making. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.33.3

 

 

Indigo: Once trade routes with India were established, the exceptional blue dyes sourced from the indigo plant became so popular as to destroy the gigantic woad trade in Europe. Made by soaking, drying, and then cutting up the plant’s leaves, the dye had a much more concentrated amount of pigment than what came from woad, resulting in a deeper and more vivid blue on dyed fabrics.

 

For a time, indigo cultivation reached worldwide dimensions; in the 17th and 18th centuries plantations were established in the American colonies. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.29.9.4

For a time, indigo cultivation reached worldwide dimensions; in the 17th and 18th centuries plantations were established in the American colonies. Osborne Library, accn # 2015.29.9.4

 

Eventually, synthetic dyes replaced all of these, with companies like CIBA developing hues that were as rich and color-fast as their naturally-sourced forebears (although some of the dyes described above are still produced in small amounts for use by artists and craftspeople). As time went on, the Review focused more and more upon the chemical processes by which synthetic dyes were produced and fabrics themselves, modernized.

 

This photo of CIBA’s factory equipment, from the journal celebrating the company’s 75th anniversary, gives a new meaning to the term “dye plant.” Osborne Library, 2015.33.91

This photo of CIBA’s factory equipment, from the journal celebrating the company’s 75th anniversary, gives a new meaning to the term “dye plant.” Osborne Library, 2015.33.91

 

Stay tuned for more in the third and final blog post of the series.

Ciba Review: A Rich Addition to ATHM’s Electronic Database

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

Among other ongoing endeavors, ATHM’s Osborne Library staff works consistently to increase the accessibility of its holdings, slowly and steadily adding records to its electronic database. Currently, librarian Jane Ward is directing efforts to add the records of the Ciba Review, a textile chemical company periodical, to the museum’s online catalogue, the Chace Catalogue. Periodicals, perhaps because they tend to be deemed less unique than other library materials, are often relegated to the back of the line in cataloging efforts. In this case, however, the periodical in question is of such value to researchers that it was not only bumped to the top of the to-do list, but is also being spotlighted in this special series of blog posts.

Although the Company for Chemical Industry Basel (CIBA) may not presently be a familiar name to many, the firm is traceable to a prominent modern-day outfit. CIBA (as the company came to be known), originally founded in 1859 in Basel, Switzerland, started out as a manufacturer of the silk-dyeing chemical fuchsine. In 1971, it became CIBA-Geigy in a merger with J. R. Geigy, Ltd., and in 1996, a merger with Sandoz Laboratories brought the agrochemical and pharmaceutical operations of these companies together under the Novartis umbrella. Today that company’s global research operations division, Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research, is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

One of the many issues of "Ciba Review" to focus on a particular culture or geographical area. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-65. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85202

One of the many issues of Ciba Review to focus on a particular culture or geographical area. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-65. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85202

Over the course of its existence, CIBA’s focus remained within the textile industry, and the periodical it produced from 1937 to 1971 is a testament to its dedication to the field. The Ciba Review—at first published monthly, but after June 1940, bi-monthly—set out to examine the history of “dyeing, printing, tanning, weaving, etc., and the numerous supplementary crafts connected with the refinement of textile products,” according to the editor’s statement that opens the first issue. Although “general appeal” articles rather than “weighty… erudite treatises” are its stated goal, readers may be surprised by the heft and density of the pieces it contains. For instance, the first of five articles in Ciba Review’s premier issue, “Mediaeval Dyeing,” is titled, “The Sociological Basis of Mediaeval Craftsmanship.” Richly illustrated and with layers of informative detail, the articles are a boon to researchers of textile history. Naturally, the Ciba Review also served as a platform for advertising the company’s patented dyes (“Fast attractive reds on cotton and rayon with Chlorantine Fast Scarlet BNLL”) and as a repository of scientific notes and practical trade tips.

The premiere issue of Ciba Review, published in September 1937. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-36-1. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85137

The premiere issue of Ciba Review, published in September 1937. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-36-1. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85137

Another point of interest is that the periodical is strongly organized by subject, making it a cataloger’s—and researcher’s—dream. Each issue is devoted entirely to the title topic and contains a number of articles touching on it from a different point of view. The range of subjects covered is impressive, including everything from fabrics used throughout the ages (“Fur,” “Velvet”) to categories of garment (“Children’s Dress,” “Gloves”) to examinations of textile making in a variety of world cultures throughout history (“Pile Carpets of the Ancient Orient,” “Bark Fabrics of the South Seas”). Later issues began to focus more on the technical and chemical processes of the textile industry and less on historical subjects.

2015-33-30

Beyond the techniques of dyeing and weaving, Ciba Review studied subject matter in textile art as well. Osborne Library, Accn #2015-33-30. http://chace.athm.org/singleDisplay.php?kv=85144

There are now 170 separate issues of Ciba Review available in the online catalog, with approximately 40 still to come. In an effort to share a small sample of this incredible wealth of textile history information with our readers, we’ll take a closer look at a select number of articles in two upcoming blog posts. We think you’ll agree that the Ciba Review is a bountiful resource for those interested in the history and evolution of textile manufacturing around the world.

Barnes Textile Associates and the Rise of Management Consulting

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

The library of the American Textile History Museum holds a collection of over 2,700 reports created by the Barnes Textile Associates. One of America’s earlier management consulting firms, the company was founded in 1910 by Joel M. Barnes and kept headquarters in Boston’s financial district (at varying locations, including 101 Milk Street, and later, 10 High Street) along with additional offices in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and Spartanburg, South Carolina. From the time of its inception until at least the late 1960s, the company specialized in streamlining manufacturing processes at textile mills up and down the East Coast. The reports in ATHM’s Barnes collection, which span the years 1925 to 1971, are typed on onionskin paper and occupy 66 feet of shelf space. While they represent but a fraction of the firm’s production, they give a wealth of insight into the burgeoning field of management consulting.

 

Participants at a 1950s Barnes Textile Associates seminar, including reps from American Woolen Company, Goodall-Sanford, Inc., Bemis Brothers Bag Co., Cranston Print Works, and a participant from South America. Accn # 0000.2178.

Participants at a 1950s Barnes Textile Associates seminar, including reps from American Woolen Company, Goodall-Sanford, Inc., Bemis Brothers Bag Co., Cranston Print Works, and a participant from South America. Accn # 0000.2188.

 

The establishment of the field itself is credited to MIT graduate Arthur D. Little, who founded his still extant Boston firm Arthur D. Little, Inc., in 1886. With the rapid expansion of manufacturing capability in America during that time and over the several decades following, there came an increasing interest in techniques for maximizing worker efficiency (and with it, profits). In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor, who is known as the father of the scientific management and efficiency movement, published his highly influential work The Principles of Scientific Management. His championing of such tools as the time study—essentially, a formalized way of tracking the movements of workers as they performed their tasks, with the intent of highlighting and eliminating any wasteful motions—led to their widespread use in manufacturing, and encouraged the mushrooming of companies like the Barnes Textile Associates.

 

ATHM’s Barnes reports contain a profusion of detailed time studies, payroll analyses, and cost comparisons, as well as extensive written recommendations for labor economies within the mills. Beyond advice for changes to workers’ movements or the layout of machinery, these include suggestions such as paying workers by the piece instead of by the hour, and instituting bonus systems to encourage even higher productivity.

 

 

Detail from a 1926 time study showing how athletic shirts could be stitched more quickly in the Ware Mills, Ware, MA. Accn # 0022.63.26.pg3.detail

Detail from a 1926 time study showing how athletic shirts could be stitched more quickly in the Ware Mills, Ware, MA. Accn # 0022.63.26.pg3.detail

 

Many scholars have explored the ramifications to American workers—and society as a whole—of Taylor’s legacy, asserting that the ideas he promoted resulted in skill reduction, disempowerment, and ultimately, alienation among workers. However, at least in the case of the American textile industry, the changes implemented at the direction of firms like Barnes most likely helped many mills survive longer than they would have otherwise.

Patriotic cloth labels: Have a “Bang Up” Fourth of July!

By Jane Ward, ATHM Librarian

The cloth label collection in the Osborne Library here at the American Textile History Museum depicts an endless and fascinating variety of themes, colors, and designs, all of which were geared towards attracting buyers of cloth in the 19th century.  Cloth labels, despite their name, were made of paper, not cloth, and were attached to bolts of cloth to identify different materials and to catch the eye of jobbers in the industry.  Many of the labels do not have the company name on them but instead denote the type of material, such as twills, cambrics, ginghams, jeans, and the like.  Some labels depict an image of the company’s mill; others use images of women and men in classical dress; some use animals such as tigers, elephants, and camels.

 

A number of companies used a patriotic theme to sell their wares, as can be seen in the following labels.  The Brookfield Manufacturing Company of East Brookfield, Mass., made its feelings clear: “True Americans Will Patronize Brookfield Manufacturing Compy. Home Manufacture” is printed against the background of an American flag in this label dating between 1867 and 1872.

 

0000-453-100

Accn # 0000.453.100.

 

The Continental Mills in Lewiston, Me., created a collage of patriotic images on its label: an eagle, a drum, and the American flag at bottom, with a sword and letter of George Washington in the center.

 

0000-453-174

Accn # 0000.453.174.

 

The Dwight Company (possibly the Dwight Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Mass.) trademarked this label in 1876, the centennial year for the U.S., surrounding George Washington in the center with images of the other 17 U.S. Presidents up to 1876, framed by the state seals of all the states in the U.S. in 1876.

 

0000-453-784

Accn # 0000.453.784.

 

Interestingly enough, the only two labels to which fabric is still attached both feature George Washington.  S.H. Greene & Sons in Riverpoint, R.I., printed this full-length image of George Washington in 1871, and you can just see the chintz-type fabric that backed the label along the edges.

 

2008-11-5

Accn # 2008.11.5

 

The Washington Mills in Lawrence, Mass., also used George Washington to illustrate its name.  Although the label is in poor shape, you can just see Washington standing by his horse in the center, and bits of the brown skirt material to which this label was attached are visible along the edges.

 

2013-191

Accn # 2013.191.

 

This last cloth label (company unknown) combines the classical allegory of cherubs along with a cannon and is entitled “Bang Up.”  The lithography company of W.H. Forbes & Co. of Boston entered this image into copyright in 1868, but unfortunately we do not know the mill it represented.  It’s unclear what the reference is: perhaps the cloth will do a bang-up job for whatever purpose it is put to?  Nevertheless, the firing of the cannon seems a fitting tribute to July 4th!

 

0000-453-40

Accn # 0000.453.40.

Robust Sales and Trim Figures: Lane Bryant Catalogs, 1921-1947

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

Lane Bryant, a New York firm established as far back as 1904, today focuses on creating fashions for—in modern parlance—“plus size” women. However, its first origins were actually in maternity wear. The company’s founder, seamstress Lena Himmelstein Bryant, was asked by a customer to create something comfortable yet street-appropriate for her to don while expecting. Word of mouth quickly spread and Ms. Bryant soon realized that there was a high, unmet demand not just for presentable maternity clothing (thanks in part to a burgeoning market of working- and middle-class consumers who could not afford to give up paid work while pregnant), but also for inexpensive, larger-sized women’s wear.

Lane Bryant became the first company to mass-produce both of these clothing types, launching the firm on a trajectory of rapid growth. Between 1909 and 1923, annual sales grew from $50,000 to $5 million. Among other factors, the mail-order catalog was key to this success. At the turn of the 20th century, newspapers would not run ads for maternity wear, considering the topic too indelicate for print. When in 1911 Ms. Bryant was able to convince the New York Herald to run an ad for one of her maternity garments, the company’s entire stock sold out the next day. However, the taboo proved persistent. By privately and directly marketing to consumers via the mail-order catalog, Lane Bryant found a clever (not to mention lucrative) way around this problem.

 

Lane Bryant maternity wear was “Designed to Grow with Your Figure,” and this 1947 catalog features many models who do not yet have the appearance of pregnancy.

Lane Bryant maternity wear was “Designed to Grow with Your Figure,” and this 1947 catalog features many models who do not yet have the appearance of pregnancy. Accn.# 2014-207-pg5. chace.athm.org

 

Despite this, and in spite of their presumed audience, over the following decades even Lane Bryant’s own catalogs reflect an assumption of squeamishness about abundantly-proportioned female shapes, pregnant or not. Their imagery idealizes the ultra-slim female, with the illustrations on all but a few pages of the 1921 catalog featuring delicate ankles and waists and nary an ounce of excess flesh. The 1934 and ’47 catalogs have jettisoned images of heavy-looking women altogether, displaying only trim women with small busts and flat bellies. The catalogs’ language reflected this bias, as well: while the 1921 catalog was titled, “Bargains for Stout Women,” those of the later decades avoided such unflattering language, touting instead the company’s “slenderizing fashions.”

 

The slender models appearing on this 1921 catalog cover belie the title “Bargains for Stout Women.”

The slender models appearing on this 1921 catalog cover belie the title “Bargains for Stout Women.” Accn.# 2008-242. chace.athm.org

 

“Stout” in 1921 has given way to “Slenderizing Fashions” by the time of this 1934 catalog.

“Stout” in 1921 has given way to “Slenderizing Fashions” by the time of this 1934 catalog. Accn.# 2014-2-11. chace.athm.org

 

For better or worse, at the time Lane Bryant was hardly unusual in its tactics—advertisers had, by the mid-1920s, figured out that the aspirational approach sold a lot more clothes than grim reality. Though its marketing strategy continues to evolve with the culture, today, the company and its wares still meet the needs of a significant customer base.

Converse: Mass.-Made Rubbers

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

Once again on the subject of famous shoe companies born in New England (see a previous blog post on Keds), another remarkable artifact recently surfaced in ATHM’s collections. This 1950s-era Converse Sporting Footwear poster, issued to retailers by the Converse Rubber Company, depicts shoe styles that, like the high-heeled Keds featured in the prior post, might not seem to fit the brand name we know today.

Converse, Inc. Only Converse sporting footwear brings you all these features! [Malden, Mass.]: Converse, Inc., [1950?]. Accn. #2010.12.3.

Converse, originally founded in 1908, is now famous around the world for its iconic Chuck Taylors (launched in 1917). The company, established by Marquis M. Converse, in Malden, Massachusetts, is another example of a New England manufacturer that managed to successfully weather a hundred years of changing consumer tastes—an order as tall as some of these boots, to be sure.

Different from what we picture when we hear the name “Converse,” these rubber boots look more like those of fellow New England sports clothing maker, L.L. Bean. According to Abraham Aamidor, who penned a history of Converse’s famed Chuck Taylor and his All Star sneakers, by 1910 Converse was producing over 4,000 rubber boots per day, and the company had to send workers home for the winter after all orders for galoshes had been filled. The rubber-soled Chuck Taylors were created to help the company balance the books, and keep its employees working, during this time of year.

But the story of local rubber ingenuity deepens, as in fact it was inventors in early 19th-century Massachusetts who made crucial advancements in the materials needed to make boots like these. In 1830s Springfield, Mass., Charles Goodyear first developed the process of “vulcanization” of rubber, which allowed it to remain stable and strong whatever the temperature (rather than sticky in hot weather, and brittle in cold—problems that had previously plagued the material). Around that same time Edwin Chaffee, working in Boston, invented a machine called a calender that pressed rubber into sheets, making it much easier to fashion into footwear and clothing. Both of these inventions propelled the rubber industry forward dramatically. (However, it should be noted that at the time this poster was made, most “rubber” products were made up largely of synthetics, partly as a result of WWII rubber shortages.)

As it happens, now is an especially appropriate time to be looking back on this home-grown shoe manufacturer—Converse Inc. moves in April, 2015 from its current home in North Andover, Mass., to new Boston headquarters, its Chuck Taylor shoe still very much at the heart of its longevity.

99 Years of Keds

By Alyssa Shirley Morein, ATHM Volunteer and Writer at Final Word Consulting

It’s hard to believe that sneaker brand Keds will be celebrating its hundredth anniversary next year. Many of us, at some point in our lives, have worn this popular brand, created in 1916 by the U.S. Rubber Company in Naugatuck, Connecticut.

United States Rubber Co. Keds: sporting & outing shoes. Des Moines, Iowa: United States Rubber Co., 1918. Accn. #2009.93.1.

Shown here is a pamphlet from the company, titled “Keds’ Sporting and Outing Shoes.” Published two years after the birth of the brand, it pictures styles that may be surprising to viewers of today. With innovative canvas tops and rubber soles, the company brought a new level of comfort and practicality to the popular shoe styles of the era, and as this pamphlet shows, sold a variety of styles to suit different genders, occasions, and budgets.

Continue reading >

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