February 10, 2007


And the man behind the brand is...
Henry Lee

All Henry David Lee wanted was to have his clothing orders filled on time.
He was 62 years and had built the dominant wholesale grocery business in the Midwest. But when he diversified his mercantile operation to include clothing he discovered his textile suppliers were not as reliable as his growers. Lee solved the problem the best way he knew how; he built his own garment factory near his warehouse in Salina, Kansas in 1911.

Lee was born in Vermont in 1849 and started his business career distributing kerosene in Galion, Ohio. In 1888 he sold his business to John Rockefeller and left Ohio for Kansas. The next year he was back in business as the H.D. Lee Mercantile Company, distributing food instead of fuel. Over the next dozen years he added hardware, stationery and notions - and the bothersome clothing to his line.

Lee started in the garment trade with rugged overalls, jackets and dungarees. A one-piece pullover, helpful in protecting regular clothing, called the Union-All was his first big seller. Developed in 1913 the Union-All was a pair of dungarees sewn to a jacket. It was adopted as an official fatigue by the U.S. Army in World War I and by 1916 Lee had four garment plants in operation. The next year he pioneered national advertising for apparel in the Saturday Evening Post.

The Union-All marked the beginning of product innovation for Lee. Denim cowboy pants, which would become the famous Lee Riders, reached the market in 1924; two years later jeans with zippers appeared and soon thereafter came tailored sizing. Henry Lee died, still president, in 1928; his company well on the way to becoming America’s largest manufacturer of work clothes.


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