Born. October 19, 1899
Orcas Island, Washington
Died: April 18, 1986
Founder, Eddie Bauer, inc.
Eddie Bauer was an sportsman, merchant, and inventor whose knack for design produced some of the twentieth century's most useful outerwear and recreational equipment. He was among the first to use goose down to line and insulate jackets, and created the flight parka that came to be known as the "Bomber Jacket" worn by thousands of American World War II pilots. His company, which bore his name and used his signature as its logo, began with a tiny storefront in Seattle, Washington, and grew to over six hundred stores worldwide with sales exceeding $1.6 billion.
"To give you such outstanding quality, value, service and guarantee that we may be worthy of your high esteem."— "The Eddie Bauer Creed"
Eddie Bauer was born October 19, 1899, to Jacob and Marie Bauer, Russian immigrants who spoke German. Young Bauer was one of six children who lived in the family's log cabin on Orcas Island. Orcas was part of the San Juan Islands, located off the northwestern coast of Washington. Jacob Bauer was a hunter and farmer, who taught young Eddie to fish and hunt. His legacy was that he taught his son to have a vast appreciation for the outdoors. Marie Bauer helped out on the family farm, sometimes offering visiting hunters a bed for the night. In 1904, the family left Orcas Island and settled at Yarrow Point on Lake Washington.
Bauer's life changed in 1909 when he began working as a caddie at the Seattle Golf Club. The club's wealthy members took a liking to the boy and he often earned extra money completing small jobs for them. In 1913, Bauer's parents separated and Eddie moved to Seattle with his mother. He went as far as the eighth grade, but decided to forego further schooling for a job at the local sporting goods store, Piper & Taft. Working part-time as an errand and stock boy, Bauer also learned many tricks of the sporting goods trade from making fishing poles and lures to refinishing golf clubs and stringing tennis rackets. He spent the rest of his time outdoors hunting, fishing, and target shooting.
By 1917, Bauer had worked his way up to department manager and was given the chance to arrange the store's front window display. One display featured Eddie in a competition to string the most tennis rackets within a certain period of time. In a little over three hours, he strung twelve rackets in a row using a special vise grip he had built himself. Bauer's performance was not only great advertising for Piper & Taft, but for his athletic and handyman skills.
Deciding to strike out on his own, Bauer rented fifteen feet of space for $15 a month, with the intention of stringing rackets for local tennis enthusiasts. He called his business Eddie Bauer's Tennis Shop and promised a fast turnaround time and quality service. Since tennis was seasonal Bauer used the winter months to catch up on his hunting and fishing. Within a year he had earned a whopping $10,000.
Since his rent was going to go up, Bauer took his business prospects elsewhere. With his $10,000 and a matching bank loan, he opened a small store called Eddie Bauer's Sports Shop in 1920. In addition to customizing and repairing tennis rackets, Bauer also added fishing, trapping, and golfing equipment and accessories to his product line.
Bauer's outdoor interests grew with every year. Over time he mastered mountain climbing, saltwater fishing, and the little known badminton backyard game. With each new pursuit, Bauer thought of ways to make the sport better, experimenting with the size, weight, or shape of a game's equipment. This curiosity and drive paid off handsomely in the decades to come.
During the early 1920s, Eddie married and divorced, but little is known of the union. His second marriage, however, provided him with a lifelong companion, a woman who proved his equal in all things outdoors. While out testing some new gear for his shop, Eddie met Christine Heltborg, a champion skeet shooter. She was known by the nickname "Stine," and the two married in February 1929.
Eddie and Stine had one child, a son, Eddie Christian Bauer. Happy both personally and professionally, Bauer's creative genius took serious flight in the 1930s. A shuttlecock for badminton was patented in 1934 and became the game's standard equipment, while another invention, a down-filled jacket called the Skyliner was patented and became a big seller in 1936. Bauer soon realized quilted down insulation was the wave of the future, and over the next several years he designed and patented a number of garments for extreme weather conditions. By this time, Bauer's namesake business had outgrown several small locations and expanded to accommodate Seattle's outdoorsy crowd by offering a wide range of apparel and equipment.
In the early days of Eddie Bauer's Sporting Goods shop, Bauer used to close up the store every Labor Day and not reopen until the following February so he could camp, fish, and hunt during the fall and winter months.
World War II (1939-45) brought Eddie Bauer his greatest fame, when the sportsman designed a coat for the military called the B-9 Flight Parka. This jacket, worn by American fighter pilots, became known as the Bomber Jacket and was both instantly recognizable and the height of fashion. Eddie sold fifty thousand of the jackets and, after the war ended, put together a catalog that he sent to military men and women across the nation. The mail-order business took off as the retail store began to experience losses.
In the early 1950s, suffering from a recurring back injury, Bauer decided he needed a partner to keep his business alive. He turned to William Niemi, an avid outdoorsman. The two men had met through their wives, who were friends.
Bauer's son joined the family business in 1960, along with partner Niemi's son, William Jr. The Bauers, however, cashed out eight years later, selling their interest in the company to the Niemis for $1.5 million. Bauer Sr. was free to spend his days in the great outdoors; he and his wife Stine had taken up dog breeding as well. In early 1986, Stine Bauer died of cancer. Eddie Bauer died just weeks later in Bellevue, Washington. Some would say he died of a broken heart, although medically it was a heart attack that caused his death.
The Eddie Bauer name lived on, becoming one of the most famous companies of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. With his name on an ever increasing range of products, from T-shirts and blankets to sofas and SUVs, Eddie Bauer accomplished more than most businessmen: he ultimately created a way of life.
Satterfield, Archie. The Eddie Bauer Guide to Backpacking. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1983.
___. The Eddie Bauer Guide to Cross-Country Skiing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1983.
___. The Eddie Bauer Guide to Family Camping. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1982.
Sigler, Cam, and Don Berry. The Eddie Bauer Guide to Fly Fishing. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1985.
Spector, Robert. The Legend of Eddie Bauer. 1994, Reprint. Lyme, CT: Greenwich Publishing Group, 1995.
Bowers, Katherine. "Eddie Bauer's Online Appeal." Women's Wear Daily (March 23, 2001): p. 11.
"Eddie Bauer." Puget Sound Business Journal (April 29, 1991): p. 18.
"Eddie Bauer's Secret Weapon for Attracting, Developing, and Keeping Talent." Employee Benefits News (November 1, 2000): n.p.
Kim, Nancy J. "Bauer Hits the Recovery Trail." Puget Sound Business journal (August 14, 1998): p. 1.
McKinney, Melonee. "Megabrands Need to Combine Past, Present and Future to Survive." Daily News Record (May 26, 2002): p. 22.
Moin, David. "Bauer's Fersch Retires." Women's Wear Daily (January 2, 2002): p. 3.
Williams, Linda. "Return to Basics May Revive Eddie Bauer." Puget Sound Business Journal (August 21, 1992): p. 1.
Eddie Bauer, Inc. [On-line] http://www.eddiebauer.com (accessed on August 15, 2002).