Cluett, Peabody & Co.

Cluett Peabody PostcardFor some time, Hannah Montague was forgotten, even as the industry she is now credited with creating boomed. Detachable collars (and then cuffs) proved all the rage, making laundering simpler, allowing shirts to last longer. In today’s world of cheap textiles, we don’t appreciate how few garments a denizen of the 19th century may have owned. Individual items of clothing were often listed in wills; even the wealthy didn’t have an overabundance of clothing. Hannah’s invention, along with the subsequent development of the industrial sewing machine, helped to change that, but for many years her contribution was forgotten.

As late as 1908, the advertising manager of Cluett, Peabody & Co., perhaps the largest shirt manufacturer in the country, was suggesting that there should be a memorial to “the revered memory of the founder of the collar industry, the Rev. Ebenezer Brown, who is said to have made the first collar ….”

Cluett, Peabody & Co. was the  company that lasted the longest. It produced a number of brands, of which Arrow Shirts was probably the most famous. For the longest time, Arrow Shirts were synonymous with Troy. the Troy plant was thought to be the largest shirt factory in the world, and it sprawled along the river. In 1912,  the New York Times would report that Cluett, Peabody & Co., “the largest manufacturers of collars, shirts, and cuffs in the world, is to become still larger.” At that time it had factories at Troy, Rochester, Corinth, and Waterford, NY; Leominster, MA; South Norwalk, CT; and St. Johns, Quebec. The combined annual output of those plants was then 7,000,000 dozen collars and 500,000 dozen shirts.

The company endured patent suits (John Van Heusen accused them and others of stealing his unstarched collar), and Asian-made counterfeits (in the 1960s, proving nothing is new). They navigated re-attachment of the collar and the move into synthetics. But local plants couldn’t survive the trend that moved manufacturing out of the Northeast. As all the local textile business moved south (before moving out of the country), by the late ’80s the only vestige of Cluett, Peabody was the Technical Services Headquarters of the Sanforized Company, and that was soon gone. (Sanforizing, a technique for preventing shrinkage, was developed by Sanford L. Cluett.) Most of the sprawling factories have been demolished, though a section has been preserved as Hedley Park Place.

In 1989, Cluett & Peabody moved its last offices out of Troy. Some smaller manufacturers remained, but the heyday of the Collar City was gone. Arrow Shirts still exist, a subsidiary of Phillips-Van Heusen, though I honestly haven’t seen one in some time.

2 thoughts on “Cluett, Peabody & Co.

  1. I recently searched online “automatic button feeders RASI brand” which had been made in New York from the 1950s till 1993, fed the buttons into Industrial Sewing Machines aligned with the needle, sped up operations vs. hand putting each shirt button in the sew mach. clamp. And I came across a Cluett Peabody Patent from 1970 on Automatic Button Feeders. The inventors lived in Troy NY. That Cluett Peabody patent was cited in 1986 and 1987 by two men I knew for their own Auto Button Feeder Machine Patents:
    i. Morris Nirenberg, a Cooper Union Engineer who owned RASI Corp. of Oceanside NY, and later of Fitzwilliam NH in his 70s and 80s. I had worked out of his factory making Auto Button Feeding Machines in late 1980s thru early 1990s, and was his son-in-law. Plus he helped me develop the new model Glo-Marker button & buttonhole marking machine used for clothing production, US Pat. 5,323,542 in 1994. Cluett Peabody Arrow Shirts were already suffering under “mercantilist economics attack” by cheap labor policies of 3rd World Countries and bad income tax and other policies against the Middle Class by the Elites in Wash. DC and welfare empowering / industry destroying liberals such as Govs. M. Cuomo and N. Rockefeller.
    ii. I also knew Andy Kennedy of Kennedy Sewing Machs. Ltd., London England, as he was my father in-laws distributor of RASI Button Feeding Machines in the UK and thru-out Europe. Kennedy made his own Butyon Feeding Machine in early 1990s I saw it at a trade show in London and IMB Show in Cologne Germany. Plus he made a cheap knock-off of the Glo-Marker Button & Buttonhole Narking Machine he called MultiMarker. Kennedy went bankrupt in England in about 1996, ended up in an insane asylum, then spent rest of his life as a taxi driver. He had also copied machines of Britannic Machinery Manuf. of England, and we were warned about him by Armin Spiegel its owner and Glo-Mark Co’s of 121 7th Ave. NY NY’s in Chelsea part Manhattan, Brittanic was Glo-Mark’s dealer in England from 1959 – 1990s.
    Cluett Peabody Co. had used Glo-Marker machines for butyon snd buttonhole marking and placement back in the 1950s – early 1980s.
    The Hipster Generation now refers to this past as the Industrial or Machine Age”. It was back when innovation and hard work still paid off and could pay well in America. Before Pres. LBJ and earlier Gov. Cuomo’s welfare system attacks on decent culture and the American Middle Class, high taxes put on the middle class to pay for the “Night of Living Dead welfare collectors”, main voter-base of Dem. Party. Nowadays on inflation-adjusted basis retail and burger flipping jobs at McDonalds pay less. Yet Wash. DC and liberal Gov. M. Cuomo taxed and harassed Industry out of NY State !
    Its too bad the former Cluett Peabody factory buildings, built better than today, have been mostly destroyed.

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