The War Years: L.L. Bean Goes to Washington


The fall 1942 catalog cover, with a wartime note.

Throughout our anniversary year, we’re giving Trail Mix readers an inside look at our latest book, Guaranteed To Last, which chronicles our 100-year history. Today we thought we’d open the book and provide you with a closer look at our founder, L.L., and one particularly interesting trip to the nation’s capital in the 1940s – and the positive impact his trip had on US soldiers at war.

 

Having recovered from the economic devastation of the Great Depression, L.L.Bean was faced with the troubling onset of World War II. The war brought about a time in which both leisure time and raw materials were scarce. Although L.L.Bean continued to produce recreational items, such as duck calls and hunting hats, the company began to see a need for its products from an entirely different market.

 

Early in the war, the National War Department recruited L.L. to help devise cold-weather apparel for the troops. Although a civilian, L.L. was very mindful of the infantryman’s needs, and his perspective proved especially useful as he designed the troop’s rubber-bottom, leather-topped boots. L.L. solely opposed the apparel committee’s idea for 18-inch tall boots, knowing from his own outdoor experience the height would only tire the leg muscles of troops who had to be on their feet all day.

 

To support his suggestion for a 10-inch-tall Bean Boot, L.L. explained to the committee that the eight extra inches of leather would cause an infantryman to lift 4,620 unnecessary pounds during the course of a normal day at war. And with that, an adaptation of the Bean Boot made its way to war.

 

L.L.Bean employees (from left to right: Ralph “Newt” Winslow, Lucille Johnson, and Russell Dyer) survey Maine Hunting Shoes being assembled for a government order.

L.L.Bean employees (from left to right: Ralph “Newt” Winslow, Lucille Johnson, and Russell Dyer) survey Maine Hunting Shoes being assembled for a government order.

One night in Washington as the war was winding down, L.L. hailed the same taxi as a general. Not knowing L.L.’s identity, the general candidly spoke of L.L.Bean’s superior products and how the company’s efforts were crucial in clothing the troops for war. He even mentioned how many men brought their Bean Boots back from war because they admired the craftsmanship. As the taxi came to a stop, L.L. extended his hand to the general and humbly introduced himself.

 

L.L. told this story to a reporter from the Saturday Evening Post, prompting a four-and-a-half page article that put the merchandiser from Maine on the national radar. The reporter called L.L. “a national institution and a national character, with a passion for hunting only rivaled by that of trade.”

 

The article ran on December 14, 1946, and L.L. said the day was one of the most important days in L.L.Bean’s history, as well as in his own life. You can read the entire Post article in Guaranteed to Last, or learn more about the events on our 100th Anniversary Timeline.

 

While this was an important day in L.L. Bean history, there are still many more stories to be found among our timeline– many of which involve you or your friends and family.

 

Do you have any events you’d like to share with us? Share a moment in the comment section below and you’ll be entered to win your own copy of Guaranteed to Last, shipped for free, of course. We’ll be giving away three copies of our book at the end of the month.

 

We look forward to hearing your stories!




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