Pendleton has set the standard for American style for more than 150 years. With six generations of family ownership, the story begins in 1863 when Thomas Kay, a young English weaver, settled in America’s newest state, Oregon.
Kay helped to organise Oregon’s second woollen mill in Brownsville, where he oversaw the weaving operation. After a promotion, which lead him to the role of superintendent of the company, he opened his own mill in Salem in 1889.
Thomas Kay’s eldest daughter, Fannie, learned the mill business and assisted her father with the mill operation and management. Her marriage to C.P. Bishop, a retail merchant, resulted in a complementary combination of merchandising and manufacturing and solidified the foundations for what was to become Pendleton Woollen Mills.
In 1909, this textile-retail heritage was passed on to the three Bishop sons, Clarence, Roy and Chauncey who transformed an idle mill in Pendleton into the business it is today.
Before the Bishop sons arrived, the town of Pendleton was a wool shipping centre for sheep growers of the region. The idle mill, which was originally built in 1893, began as a scouring plant and was used to wash wool before shipping. Due to increased freight tariffs on the shipment of scoured wool, the business soon became unprofitable.
In 1895, the scouring plant was converted into a woollen mill which produced bed blankets and robes for Native Americans. This venture also failed and the mill went idle before it was reopened by the Bishop Brothers in 1909.
The production of Indian blankets resumed as the Bishops applied intuitive business concepts for quality products with a distinctive style. By studying the colour and design preferences of local and Southwest Native Americans, they realised vivid colours and intricate patterns were favoured. Trade expanded from the Nez Perce nation near Pendleton to the Navajo, Hopi and Zuni nations. As well as basic wearing apparel, Pendleton blankets were used as a standard of value for trading and credit among Native Americans as well as prized pieces for ceremonial use.
Between 1912 and 1949, under the direction of the Bishop family, Pendleton expanded into other areas of woollen manufacturing including apparel for both men and women. In 1972, Pendleton became a year-round sportswear resource, introducing distinctively styled, non-wool menswear and womenswear for spring and summer, as well as men’s woollen shirts and women’s 49er jackets for cooler months.
Today the company owns and operates 7 facilities and manages 75 retail shops. The three Bishop sons acted as co-executive officers for many years and have passed the management roles onto their sons John, Charles, Peter and C.M Bishop III.
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