Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Carhartt, Hamilton

Hamilton Carhartt founded the Carhartt Company, manufacturer of durable work clothes for over 125 years. He 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.



Hamilton Carhartt Invoice, 1926

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