...The Story of two climbers on the East Coast in the later 60s:
Time: the late 1960s. Context: Out on the West Coast, REI had been doing business for some 30 years; In Colorado, GERRY and Holubar had been open for 20 years, and Frostline had just gotten started. The EMS label picture is from a down parka that its owner had purchased, he told me, in 1967 or 1968 in Boston, thus this label is probably EMS's original label version.
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Quoted from www.EMS.com, the company's official website: "Eastern Mountain Sports was founded in 1967 in Wellesley Massachusetts by two rock climbers who had become dissatisfied with the poor selection of climbing equipment they found in existing stores. In addition to selling climbing gear, they added a selection of camping equipment in hopes of making money from the hobby that had turned into a viable business." [One reporter tells me that the actual original rock climber/founder was Gardner Perry, see below for more.]
"From this small store outside Boston Massachusetts, EMS has grown into one of the nation's leading outdoor specialty retailers, with more than 80 retail stores, as well as a formidable online presence. The company is now based in Peterborough, New Hampshire."
The company website shows their stores now laid out across 12 eastern States, from New England extending south into Virginia.
Quoted from one of my correspondents, Jonathan Y, an East Coast resident..."I entered college in 1970 and, having never hiked, had no idea what to get once I started backpacking & hiking. With LL Bean close by, I got some stuff there...and even got an early EMS down bag around 1973 (EMS started as the Mountain Shop in Wellesley, MA, in 1967, not far from where I grew up).... I used to collect all the early catalogs I could from REI (joined in 1973 for a couple of bucks!), EMS, and anyone else I could find."
Another of my correspondents, a very long term resident of Maine, remembers some additional history related to general history on the East Coast, and to EMS and its origins. First, he gave credit to a pioneering company of the 1950s in New York City called "Camp and Trails." He said it was owned by a European immigrant and sold sleeping bags, tents and imported gear from Europe, and that the company closed sometime in the 60s.....Coming forward in time about ten years, my correspondent states that there were some "precursor" companies in the Wellesley area that he recalls some of EMS's founders being associated with in the middle 60s, the Mountaineering Supply in Brighton, and a Ski Shop (Ski Hut) in Wellesley. He also recalled four men's names directly/indirectly part of EMS's founding: Gardner Perry III, Peter Himut (sp? Roger Himot)), Roger Furst, and Alan McDonough (Alan McDonough was describged in a 1976 Backpacker Magazine interview as the "President" of EMS. Another correspondent told me that Alan went on to found (and sell) The Rugged Bear).... Another person, who was an employee in the early 70s, told me that the two principals were Furst and McDonough, which collaborates what I was told by Edward W. Furst, the brother of Roger Furst. (Roger Furst died March 16, 2012).... Note: any readers having additional information or corrrections, please contact me! (email@example.com)
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When EMS was founded, it had a 30 year old neighbor on the West Coast called REI. Both companies expanded mightily over the years, and by 2007 there were four REI stores within 20 miles of EMS' birthplace in Wellesley!
Picture Note: the entwined ice axe within the EMS label hints at the company's true-blue climbing origins. The company website states that they still do much of their own testing, often using the snowy, challenging heights of New Hampshire's Mt. Washington to test their gear. Other classic gear makers also have a tradition of testing gear, especially their tents, in the hurricane winds of Mt. Washington; two examples are Stephenson's Warmlite and Rivendell Mountain Works. Go to this page, and look for the link to Mt. Washington's website; it's alongside the picture of the tan Rivendell Bombshelter tent in the middle of the page.....Also of note on the EMS label, which is from a more modern polarguard bag, is the industry-wide shift to production in the Far East, Taiwan in this case.