Monday, April 2, 2012

The Story of Stanfield's Underwear, 1906

     This appeared in the West Prince Graphic Newspaper, March 28th, 2012 in Allan MacRae's column, From our Past.

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     The manufacture of underwear for the average man and boy, commonly referred to as 'long johns', had its beginning at Tryon, Prince Edward Island in the 1870's.  Before cotton and synthetic fibers were readily available, underwear was manufactured from wool.  The Stanfield family opened the Tryon Woolen Mills and developed the first successful method of manufacturing 'unshrinkable' underwear.  A century ago every man and boy had at least on 'set' of Stanfield's underwear which after 1882 was manufactured in Truro, N.S.   The Stanfield name continues to be a household name for underwear to the present day.  This is the Stanfield story...The Guardian, 8 March 1906.
     "When the Stanfield family moved their knitted goods business from Tryon to Truro in 1882 the family set to work to not only making the best goods possible, but devoted themselves to taking the 'shrink' out of the material, although however hard they tried they couldn't take the 'scratch' and 'itch' out of the wool."
     "Using at least one ton of locally produced wool per day, the wool was sorted into which was then carded or combed.  The discarded wool was sold to makers of carpets, horse blankets and the like.  The wool was then washed and passed along a sluice-like contrivance about 80 feet long, where the wool was dried, then picked by a burring machine doing the work of ten men.  The wool went into one end dirty, unkempt and matted and emerged perfectly clean."

     Below is an image from page 129 of Meacham's 1880 Atlas of Prince Edward Island. The world famous Stanfield's Underwear had it's beginnings here on Prince Edward Island at this mill in Tryon.

     "After washing the wool then went through the secret process, and on to the carding room having 32 machines which handled 2,000 lbs daily.  The carded wool on spools was then transferred to the spinning room, then on to the knitting room, where the 'unshrinkables' assumed form and were given identity.  There were 66 knitting machines, made from the company's own pattern.  The girl attended to seven or eight of the machines, and so sensitive were they that if a thread breaks the machine stopped instantly.  The material was made into long webs ranging from fifteen to thirty inches in width".
     "The next step was to the cutting room where the material was cut by hand for greater accuracy and in order to detect and reject any material with flaws.  Here the seams were run up on sewing machines and the garments passed into the laundry and testing rooms, washed absolutely clean by pure water made from condensed steam, dried under forces air at a rate of 1,000 garments an hour, and then thoroughly tested before being sent for the finishing touches."
     "The finishing is done by a long row of fifty-four electric sewing machines operated by fifty-four bright and shining girls.  The garments passed on from one to another and are seamed, button-holed, buttoned, trimmed, packed, stamped, boxed and sent away, perhaps, to cover the brawny chest of some British Columbia miner".
     "The manufacture of underwear was slicker than the pork packing plants of Chicago, where the pig who went to slaughter with a mournful shriek emerged as sausages before the echo has died away.  There are four travellers on the road selling the goods and eleven who carry their samples in connection with distribution houses and in all cases they sell direct to the retail trade which puts them in a position to see that the dealer gets just the goods he wants.  Stanfield's underwear remains a household name to this day."

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     For more information about Stanfields go to: . The following is from their website:
      Charles E. Stanfield had no idea when he immigrated to Canada in 1855 that he would found the firm that is a leader in its field today. Charles, along with his brother-in-law, Samuel E. Dawson, founded the Tryon Woolen Mills in Tryon, P.E.I. in 1856. Ten years later he sold his interests to Samuel and moved to Nova Scotia where he founded the Truro Woolen Mills in 1870. It was believed to be the first factory of its kind in Canada.

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