The year 1889 was a time of steel, steam, and locomotives. It was also when Hamilton Carhartt & Company was founded by its namesake (known affectionately as “Ham”) and began producing overalls with two sewing machines and a half-horsepower electric motor in a small Detroit loft. Early failures led Hamilton to focus heavily on market research, and after talking directly with railroad workers, he designed a product that truly fit their needs. Under the motto, “Honest value for an honest dollar,” the Carhartt bib overall was created and rapidly evolved into the standard for quality workwear.
By 1910, Carhartt had grown to include mills in South Carolina and Georgia, as well as sewing facilities in Atlanta, Detroit, Dallas, and San Francisco. The company expanded internationally to Walkerville (Ontario), Toronto, Vancouver, and Liverpool. A Paris facility and a New York office and warehouse later followed.
In times of international conflict, Carhartt committed to “backing the attack.” The company offered seven Carhartt facilities to the government for the purpose of creating uniforms for the U.S. military in World War I. During World War II, the company produced coveralls for soldiers and support personnel, jungle suits for Marines in the Pacific, and workwear for women entering the factories on the home front.
In 1929, the stock market collapse was as brutal to Carhartt as it was to the rest of the country. The company came close to shutting its doors for good. Keeping the business alive is a testament to the tenacity, passion, and ingenuity displayed by Hamilton and his sons during that time. Despite the challenges posed by the Great Depression, Carhartt continued its wholehearted support for worker’s rights.
During the 1970s, massive orders for the construction of the Alaska Pipeline helped grow the brand, and Carhartt undeniably showed that its products could survive and thrive in the most rugged conditions on Earth.
The Carhartt brand became popular with consumers outside blue-collar trades during the 1970s and 1980s. More people began to learn about the brand as big names in the hip-hop music industry started to wear Carhartt. Interest expanded across the pond in Europe, leading to the creation of the Carhartt Work In Progress label in 1989, which is targeted toward consumers in Europe and Asia who value refined details and design that remains true to Carhartt’s brand DNA.
Over the past 15 years, Carhartt has produced more than 80 million garments and accessories in the U.S. The company also sources heavily from U.S. suppliers such as Mt. Vernon Mills in Georgia (fabric) and YKK Snap USA in Kentucky (snaps and buttons), among others.