Eddie Bauer in the History of Gear: Proudly known as

"Eddie Bauer, Expedition Outfitter"

...The Story of a Fisherman with down on his mind

Time: the 1920s and 1930s..... A Seattle-area resident who loved fishing and was otherwise famed as a Labrador Retreiver fancier seems an unlikely gear innovator, but the company name "Eddie Bauer" inspired three generations of climbers, expeditioners and backpackers... Initially Eddie was a young man with few financial resources. He opened "Eddie Bauer's Sport Shop" in Seattle, Washington in 1920 on a shoestring budget... Gradually he built his company into one of the best-known in the World. According to the Company historian Colin Berg, the company's first catalog was published in 1945.

The birth of his Seattle neighbor REI was two years in the future when Bauer created North America's first quilted down jacket, the Skyliner, in 1936, and later patented it in 1940 (Patent NO. 119122). Eddie was then 41 years old. One wonders if his inspiration came from Europe, where eiderdown sleeping bags and camping quilts had been used long before WW II; in fact, a 1922 photo high on Mt. Everest portrays a George Finch engaged in "the first known use of a down jacket." (pg. 187, Invisible on Everest, click for link)

Eddie Bauer wins big honor from the gear industry:

Mr. Bauer was given a stellar (posthumous) honor in 1992 as one of the gear industry's "greatest pioneers" - see more here

Eddie Bauer as a company was making down sleeping bags in the mid to late 30s, and made many for the military during WW II.... Post-War, Bauer gradually incorporated design improvements such as lightweight 1.9 oz. ripstop nylon, improved internal baffles to control the down, nylon zippers, etc. Was Bauer as big an innovator in sleeping bags as Colorado's Holubar mountaineering? Based on my studies, I think Holubar was always a step ahead, but not by much.

.... Mr. Eddie Bauer and his son were involved in the company until 1968, at which time the Bauers handed over the reins to their long-time partners the Niemis...In 1971 the company was sold to its first big corporate buyer, General Mills. About seventeen years later, Eddie Bauer changed their identity, dropping their tagline "Expedition Outfiter."

Here are the words of Brian W., an employee who worked in a Pennslyvania EB store in the "hard goods" section:

"I clearly remember in 1986-87 that EB still used the tagline “Expedition Outfitter” and still sold a variety of high-quality expedition gear, including EB-branded down sleeping bags, down parkas (including the classic Karakorum with fur ruff). In fact, I still own an MSR XGK white-gas stove that I purchased from EB when I worked there, so as late as 1986-87 they were still a viable place to purchase serious outdoor gear. My guess is that when Spiegel bought them in 1988 (your date, which seems right to me) they dropped the hard goods to focus on the outdoor “fashion” that was becoming popular at the time."

Sadly, after 1990, Eddie Bauer dropped it's "Expedition Outfitter" tagline and nearly all of the clothing which was oriented toward expeditioners, Arctic explorers and Alaskan pipeline workers. It was a sad time in the History of Gear.

Spiegel bought the company from General Mills in 1988. Wikipedia adds the information that in 2003, Spiegel, Inc., entered bankruptcy. Wikipedia states that the Spiegel catalog and all other assets were sold, except for Eddie Bauer. In May 2005, Spiegel, Inc., emerged from bankruptcy under the name "Eddie Bauer Holdings" and owned primarily by Commerzbank." Here is a link to the Wikipedia article.


R.I.P. Mr. Eddie Bauer Sr. passed away in 1986. He was a man who changed the climbing world, though himself not a climber. His down gear outfitted many of the great expeditions; ie. the 1953 British expedition that first climbed Mt. Everest.


2016, Good News! Eddie Bauer has introduced a heritage lineup, which consists of a number of its earliest, most classic garments. Here is a friend of mine in Bauer's re-creation of their original Skyliner jacket, first introduced in 1936.... The only changes to the orginal are higher loft down and the use of some of the modern miracle nylons. And the price is reasonable, too, unlike what I have seen in the heritage lines of certain other companies lately. (Janet Hughes models)



See circa 1965 Bauer clothing in action in classy old camping picture! Click here or the label to the left.

Other inventions by Mr. Bauer included: ...the B&B flasher, a trolling lure that he patented about 1970; an earlier invention (1934) was a regulation badminton shuttlecock (the Bauer Shuttlecock) that remains the standard for the sport today..








KARA KORAM To a teenager in the Sixties, an EXPEDITION to the icy Himalayan realms of the KARA KORAM Range in Pakistan seemed like the ultimate adventure on the planet. Company historian Colin Berg wrote to me, "The first time he (Bauer) used ripstop nylon as an outerwear fabric was 1958, for the Kara Koram Parka he built for the American expedition that made the first ascent of Gasherbrum I in the Karakoram range of Pakistan. It's the only one of the World's 8000-meter peaks first summited by an American team."

Imagine my delight when a genuine expedition-rated Kara Koram down parka entered our family in 1965. My father was an elk hunter and that was his excuse to acquire one! Those were the days when Eddie Bauer down gear truly was "Made in America," and was truly worthy of its advertising claims of being expedtion quality. The Kara Koram-labelled gear proudly proclaimed that Eddie Bauer's identity was as an "Expedition Outfitter."




To Eddie Bauer page two

Below is an image of me wearing Dad's much-used, weathered Kara Koram down parka.

Its outer shell material was no nanby-panby, lightweight nylon, and it didn't sport miles of velcro (in fact, this coat was made "BV" (before Velcro!). Instead of velcro, there were big, sturdy buttons, and its fabrics were the tough types that the hard-working men in Alaska or on the DEW Line preferred-- durable 60/40 cloth, and inner linings of stout 1.9 oz. ripstop. You opened and closed the coat by means of a heavy brass zipper (still running fine after 40 years). This particular parka is circa 1966.. The Bauer Kara Koram line has seen much duty in the Arctic and Antarctic, as well as on numerous climbing expeditions. The picture below reveals some fine weathering/cracking details in the big buttons, but the hefty brass Talon zipper is as good as ever!

Please Note: All Material below, and in all my "History of Gear" webpages, is copyrighted, and no usage of my material is permitted unless explicit permission is granted by me, Bruce B. Johnson, owner of OregonPhotos.com. ... Editors: Please contact me at oldgear@Oregonphotos.com if you have interest in publishing....Others: if you were involved with one of the old-line, vintage gear companies and have a story to tell in these pages, please contact me soon.....Sponsors: if your outdoor company is interested in sponsoring this site, please contact me for details.

"An Essay on Down"

GOOSE DOWN was a key component of the success of Eddie Bauer. Down was also key to the success of both Frostline and Holubar Kits. Both kit companies created innovative methods to package the down for consumer sewing kits. Goose Down occupied center stage for decades during the History of Gear. It was the clearly superior insulation of choice-- "Because it Breathes has Twice the Comfort Range!" Image above compliments of reader W. Johnson. Image below from a 1960 advertisement, scanned and sent to me by a contributor.

Down terminology--- "fillpower" is one of the main parameters that determines down quality. Down with increasingly higher (better) fillpower costs more and more. Cheap down in department store jackets often has only 450-500 fillpower, and it's duck down with lots of larger feathers and feather shafts, etc. "Normal" down is goose down with a fillpower of 550, as measured in the supposedly standard testing cylinder-- under controlled conditions, how much volume will one pound of down expand to fill up? Typical levels of better quality down are 600, 650, 700, and then the ultra-premium 800. Some folks doubt the truth of claims as high as 800, but in my book, having owned a bag with 800 fillpower down, as you get into the highest grades, it's all mighty fine stuff, soft and luxurious and heavenly light and compressible. You really can tell a big difference, even over 550 down. The exact source of the down (the birds) formerly was held in great esteem, with eider down and Polish down being regarded as the ultimate, but nowadays many say it doesn't really matter where it comes from, as long as it passes the tests, one down is as good as any other--- and nowadays most of the World's down comes from geese raised for meat in (you guessed it) China....I will note, however, that two of America's premier down bag makers both source their 850-900 fill down from Eastern Europe (Western Mountaineering and Feathered Friends).

The cleaning of older down garments and sleeping bags--- this is an important subject which I will write about at length at a later date. The brief warning is NOT to dry clean or machine wash older down items, IN PARTICULAR sleeping bags with their delicate interior structures of baffling. Hand washing with a good down soap is the method of choice.

copyright Bruce B. Johnson 2014-2018. Reader input is welcome at oldgear@Oregonphotos.com

Please Note: All Material above, and in all my "History of Gear" webpages, is copyrighted, and no usage of my material is permitted unless explicit permission is granted by me, Bruce B. Johnson, owner of OregonPhotos.com. ... Editors: Please contact me if you have interest in publishing....Others: if you were involved with one of the old-line, vintage gear companies and have a story to tell in these pages, please contact me soon at: oldgear@Oregonphotos.com


Main Page: Essays and pictures about the Pioneers of the Outdoor Gear Revolution, 1935-The Present, 45+ pages, six books published, and still ever-growing!


Frostline Kits, the original "sew-it-yourself" company



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Page last revised 11/28/2021