Necessity is the mother of invention
There's no denying it--without the right clothing, Minnesota winters are unbearable. Comfy outerwear is essential, of course, but we all know that it's what's underneath that really counts.
No one knew this better than entrepreneurs Frank H. Page, Edward O. Tuttle, and George D. Munsing, who founded Minneapolis's Northwestern Knitting Company in 1887 with the express purpose of making simple, comfortable undergarments. The company began by making high-quality custom products but hit its stride by embracing mass production. Much of the company's early success hinged on the patents filed by George Munsing, a tireless inventor. In 1888, for example, he patented a woolen knit fabric sure to please his customers: "It will be readily understood," according to the patent description, "that the desirable qualities of a fabric for this purpose are that it shall be heavy enough to be sufficiently warm; that it shall also have a fine attractive, and handsomely finished outer surface and a soft but smooth under surface that will not irritate the flesh of the wearer."
In 1919, the company was renamed Munsingwear. By then its place in the underwear industry was secure, thanks to its prodigious output of the humble yet essential union suit. Munsingwear's signature product was affordable (due to the company's well-honed production techniques), comfortable (due to Munsing's patented knitting techniques), and ubiquitous (due to Munsingwear's savvy marketing). With its 1897 appearance in the Ladies' Home Journal, the company became the first to place an underwear ad in a national magazine. In 1917, the company's output was 30,000 garments a day. By 1923, Munsingwear, Inc., was the largest manufacturer in the world producing underwear under one trademark. It was also Minnesota's largest employer of women--85 percent of its 3,000 employees were female.
Business remained brisk over the years. Munsingwear made its last union suit in 1969, but by then the company had diversified and was making a range of products, from Vassarette undergarments for women to Grand Slam golf shirts for men (remember the penguin logo?). Munsingwear's Minneapolis production plant, built in 1915, closed in 1981. The building is now known as International Market Square. Minneapolis Star and Tribune columnist Jim Klobuchar spoke for many with his memories of the company's most notable product: "For generations, nobody made longjohns like Munsingwear. We wore them every day for seven months at a time in northern Minnesota. Every Monday was a reveille for the town's longjohns. They were marshaled in white regiments on the wash line, hanging in frozen attention."
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