Here at Jockey, we recently launched our new brand campaign, Show ‘Em What’s Underneath, to highlight extraordinary values in seemingly ordinary people. We found it important to recognize that companies and organizations can also have outstanding character and exemplify the qualities that we aim to acknowledge in the Show ‘Em What’s Underneath campaign. As we celebrate 140 years of business this summer, we found that the value of perseverance had to have been present throughout each decade – how else would we have stayed in business if we had not persisted?
As times change, and modernization happens, we are proud to have persevered and done our best to serve our customers during all of our 140 years. And as we dug through our history, we found an early story that shows how perseverance and not giving up can make all the difference.
The humble beginnings of Jockey International, Inc. began with Reverend Samuel Cooper, a Midwestern man born in Ohio in 1824. As a traveling minister, Cooper rode hundreds of miles each week to spread the word of his faith, preaching nearly every day. On the church circuit, he met his future wife, and the two were married in 1851. The raising of six children followed their marriage.
His profession competed greatly with his ability to be a family man, which bothered Cooper. Not only did his travels take him away from home, but his salary could not materially support his family in a sufficient way. Then, in 1868, Cooper was thrown from a buggy and seriously injured while traveling for work, truly adding insult to injury. After not healing as quickly as expected, he was granted a semi-retired status with the church, allowing him with a more reasonable schedule to fulfill his familial responsibilities.
However, Cooper was never one to sit around.
He soon took a position as a traveling salesman with A.H. Andrews Company of Chicago, a manufacturer of school furniture. And in 1875 or 1876, the Cooper family moved to St. Joseph, Michigan, when Cooper realized he had accumulated a bit of capital, which he believed was enough to start a business of his own.
He met a man who was eager to sell six knitting machines, which were perfect for the manufacture of hosiery. Cooper knew that the trend of store-bought clothing was on the rise due to the expansion of garment manufacturing by ex-military suppliers after the Civil War. He also knew that wool production was on the rise in Michigan, specifically.
As a traveling minister, Cooper had garnered essential skills to capture a market for goods of the highest quality, and in 1876, he founded S.T. Cooper & Sons.
The business had a rocky start when Cooper saw how outdated the six knitting machines turned out to be—they needed full-time attention from employees and were much slower than the automated systems of many other manufacturers of that time. However, Cooper persisted. He set out to make goods of the highest quality possible, and formulated a modernization strategy to overcome his unfortunate start.
Within two years, the company had acquired industrial knitting machines, boilers and engines to run them, a dye house, a yarn-spinning operation, plus a brick building to house them all.
By 1879, with the help of an investment from Abel Wells, the operation was renamed Cooper, Wells & Company and was engaged in buying local wool, spinning it, knitting it, and manufacturing a line of hosiery for men, women and children. Cooper, Wells & Company was employing 90 people and turning out 200 dozen pairs of seamless stockings per day.
Samuel Cooper really knew how to #ShowEm perseverance.
What began as a slow operation bloomed into a state-of-the-art, successful family business. The same value of family and commitment to high-quality goods is still present in Jockey’s management today, 140 years later!