Monday, October 12, 2009

The History of Pendleton

I never got to wear much wool in California, but since moving to New York I find myself constantly drawn to the simplicity and quality of vintage Pendleton textiles. I recently came across the most amazing 50's wool pencil skirt of theirs, and became curious about their company origins and did a little research.

The company was founded by Thomas Kay in 1889, and the original name was Thomas Kay Woolen Mills, operating out of Salem, Oregon. Mr. Kay immigrated to the United States from England in 1863 and was trained as a weaver. He involved his daughter, Fanny Kay in the business, who married a retail merchant, Charles Bishop. They passed down their wealth of knowledge to their three sons. In 1809 the whole family moved to Pendleton, Oregon and rebuilt the old wool mill there.

A Sioux Star blanket from the 1920's found on Ebay

The previous Pendleton mill produced woolen trade blankets for local Indian tribes; the Bishop family picked up where the previous mill left off but made changes to designs and expanded business creating blankets for American Indian tribes such as the Navajo, Zuni, and Hopi. These blankets were worn as apparel and also used as means of trade and for ceremonial purposes. In 1912, the company began to produce other products such as woolen apparel. One of the three Bishop sons, Clarence, started a line of colorful men's woolen sportswear shirts in 1924; prior to this time wool shirts were only considered suitable for workwear and came in boring colors. The line took off and by 1929, Pendleton was producing a full line of wool sportswear.

A bag sewn from a Pendleton Blanket, found on timberlineltd on Etsy- I bought it, sorry!

During World War II, Pendleton focused mainly on producing uniforms and blankets for our troops. After the war, there became a greater demand for women's clothing and the company instroduced a wildy successful line of women's clothing. In 1972, they expanded their line to also include non woolen garments. To this day, the company is still privately held by the Bishop family; the great grandsons of Charles Bishop. They operate out of Portland, Oregon and the original Pendleton mill is still in operation.

A 50's pencil skirt up in the shop right now

Pendleton blankets have become a highly collectible item, particularly those made before WWII because during that time they stopped production to support the war. After the war, production of blankets drastically decreased as the company focused on sportswear. Blankets with bright colors are the most collectible. Even though their plaid woolen men's shirts are not that hard to find these days, I still find them completely charming in an all American kind of way. I especially love them on bearded cute men, but they can look great on women too. Topsy Design on Etsy has quite a few of them right now. Here's a good one:

A vintage mens Pendleton shirt found at TopsyDesign

Hope this was fun and a little bit educational! Thanks to Wikipedia for the info.


  1. I love Pendleton--the 49er jackets and the plaid women's suits from the 1950s, particularly. Great pencil skirt in your shop!

  2. Our homepage is now open at where you can find Pendletons and much much more. Hope you enjoy browsing!
    Jared @ Topsy