Colors can define a company. Target has its red bull’s eye. Ikea is blue and yellow. Land Rover is a kind of hunter green. And Dearborn-based Carhartt is a classic, rugged brown “duck” color.
The legendary fabric – slightly nubby, strong and able to withstand any work day – has come to symbolize working men and women throughout the company’s 125 years. This year, Carhartt is celebrating that impressive anniversary through a variety of activities, including a commemorative beverage and hat (more on that later).
For this “Throwback Thursday,” here’s the history of this global premium work-wear brand and the man who created it. We’ll start with a great quote from the man himself: “I believe that when a man wears an article that I manufacture, his self-respect is increased because he knows that it is made by an honest manufacturer, who is honest with his employees” – Hamilton Carhartt
Established in 1889, Carhartt is known for developing rugged apparel for workers on and off the job. Headquartered in Dearborn, Mich., with approximately 4,400 employees worldwide, Carhartt is family-owned and managed by the descendants of the company‘s founder, Hamilton Carhartt.
According to Carhartt: “Hamilton Carhartt was born in 1855 in Macedon Lock, New York. He grew up in Southern Michigan and his entrepreneurial style was reflected in the modifying of his last name by adding an extra ‘t’ to ensure he would stand out from other businessmen. He initially established a furnishing business which would continue to drive his ambition to succeed and lead him to create his own products.
With some helpful advice from his first potential buyer, he realized his products had to be different. After talking with a railroad engineer, he created an overall garment specifically for the railroad worker which had never been made before. Hamilton Carhartt founded his namesake company in 1889 and began making work wear with a single goal in mind: Set a standard of excellence to which all others would aspire.
Starting with only 4 sewing machines and about 5 employees, the first products manufactured were overalls in duck and denim fabrics. By traveling from town to town and visiting each railroad division, he was able to establish himself in the overall business. With entrepreneurial vision and determination, Hamilton Carhartt established a brand that has stood the test of time.
The Great Depression had a devastating effect on Carhartt resulting in only three plants remaining in the U.S. after 1930. Hamilton and his son Wylie established the “Back to the Land” campaign leading to the joint opening of the Irvine, Kentucky operations with the towns people of Irvine. Carhartt’s Manufacturing Administrative offices are still located in Irvine, Kentucky today.
The company grew throughout the early 1900’s establishing more than 17 plants and three mills throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. “From the mill to millions” was its motto and was reflected in itsoperations which included cotton production, denim mills and apparel manufacturing facilities. Carhartt Master Cloth was designed and woven especially by its mills for use in Carhartt garments and was pledged to be the best cloth that could be produced.
Hamilton Carhartt passed away in 1937 at the age of 82. Today, his company remains a family owned operation committed to the mission of providing Best-in-Class apparel for the active worker.”