1855 : Hamilton Carhartt Born, Founder of the Carhartt Company

August 27, 2022 all-day

Hamilton Carhartt, founder of the  the Carhartt Company, was born on August 27, 1855 in Macedon Lock, New York and grew up in southern Michigan. His initial success came from running a furnishing business, which inspired him to create his own products. After talking with a railroad engineer, Carhartt realized there was a need for tough, high quality work wear, so his first product was a heavy-duty bib overall made specifically for railroad workers.

Carhartt started out with two sewing machines and about five employees, manufacturing their first products out of duck and denim fabrics. His timing was good, as the nation was experiencing an industrial boom, and in 1889 he founded Carhartt, Inc. in Dearborn, Michigan. “Honest value for an honest dollar” was their slogan. The Great Depression hit Carhartt as hard as any other business, and only three plants remained in the United States after 1930. To combat this, Hamilton, with the help of his son Wylie, established the “Back to the Land” campaign, creating more of a stronghold than ever with farm and ranch workers.

Hamilton Carhartt died as the result of a car accident in Grosse Pointe in which his wife, Annette Welling Carhartt, was killed. He succumbed three days later on May 13, 1937.

Today, Carhartt, Inc. not only remains on the forefront of heavy and light duty work apparel but has become fashionable clothing, due in part to its quality and affordability. Carhartt is still based in metro-Detroit, an example of a family owned business with strong local roots. Carhartt’s granddaughter, Gretchen Carhartt Valade, created a $10 million endowment for the Detroit Jazz Festival, and has contributed to an eponymous jazz center at Wayne State University.

In 2022, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to block the Biden administration’s vaccine-or-test rule for private employers, Carhartt received attention for mandating that its employees get take  coronavirus vaccine shots unless they had a religious or health exemption.

“Employers are between a rock and a hard place. You have a responsibility as an employer to provide a safe working environment for your employees. That’s an incredibly subjective standard. It just got more subjective when you don’t have the benefit of having a law to be able to point at,” said David Lewis, the CEO of the human resources consulting firm OperationsInc.

On Friday, Carhartt CEO Mark Valade announced in an internal all-staff email that the company’s vaccine mandate — which went into effect for most of Carhartt’s 3,000 U.S.-based employees earlier this month — would stay in place despite the Supreme Court’s decision. The mandate includes exceptions for religious and medical reasons.

“We put workplace safety at the very top of our priority list, and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling doesn’t impact that core value,” Valade wrote. “An unvaccinated workforce is both a people and business risk that our company is unwilling to take.”

As expected, Right Wing Conservatives have called for a boycott.

Sources :

Encyclopedia of Detroit

Becky Sullivan, “Carhartt blowback shows the tightrope companies face over vaccine mandate decisions“, NPR, January 19, 2022.