Inside the Blue Bell Overall Company

I found this photo at The Metrolina  Flea in Charlotte last week, and I literally had to talk the dealer into selling it to me.   Fortunately, I had previously given her a huge bag of vintage photos, so she has a bit of a soft spot for me.  I’m telling you, it pays to be nice.

I loved the photo as soon as I spotted it, and then saw that the details were written on the back.  This was made in 1914 in the Blue Bell Overall Company in Greensboro, NC.   The fourth worker from the left is Daisy Overman.  I’m pretty sure that the dealer saw the pure desperation in my eyes, so she sold it to me with the condition that if I ever decided to sell it myself, I had to offer it to her.  Sure, no problem.

Factory scenes are very hard to come by, and the ones I have found are usually not identified.  The wealth of information made this a very special treasure.

Blue Bell was the forerunner of Wrangler Jeans.  It was started in 1904 as the Hudson Overall company, and they made, of course, denim overalls.  The story goes that they did a big business with railroad workers, who like the overalls so much that the factory was gifted with a large brass railroad bell.  The bell was located within the factory, and was soon covered with blue cotton dust.  (Unfortunately, the dust was also breathed in by the workers.  It can lead to  “brown lung disease,”  a deadly asthma-like disease.)

The company acquired the Wrangler trademark in the 1943, but did not use it until after WWII.  For a while they made both Wrangler and Blue Bell jeans, and it is possible to find really great womens side zip Blue Bells from the 1950s.  That might be next o the search list!

To see the full size of the photo, go to my flickr page and enlarge it.

 

18 Comments

Filed under Collecting, Made in the USA, North Carolina, Textiles, Vintage Photographs

18 responses to “Inside the Blue Bell Overall Company

  1. Em

    Cool! Blue Bell side zip jeans would be an amazing find. It is wonderful to find a picture that has so much information on the back side. I’ve got some neat ones to share if I ever dig out from work. I am always struck by images from our industrial past (textile mills, coal mines,etc.), and always wonder about the people in the photos…

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  2. randomly enough, I went to high school with a girl whose family was the owners to the blue bell company back in the day (by the time I met her, the company and her family weren’t involved anymore I think).

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  3. Pingback: Early 20th Century Exercise Shoes « thevintagetraveler

  4. vertugarde

    Great photos and information.

    Christina

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  5. I was lucky enough to find 4 pair of early new, never worn with original tags 1950’s Blue Bell Jeanies. The denim pair went to my college age employee, but two pair made of heavy cotton twill are on my website. An amazing amount of information is on the labels. They are shaped quite differently than today’s jeans.

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  6. JennySlash

    What a beautiful find! Having grown up in Greensboro, I find it especially moving.

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  7. E.M.

    This picture, if taken in the Coe Seed & Grocery, must not be from 1914, as Blue Bell didn’t come to existence until 1919. Prior to this, overalls manufactured at Coe were Hudson Overalls, changing to Blue Bell when the company made the transition simultaneous with their opening a manufacturing facility also in downtown Greensboro.

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    • It’s my opinion that the photo is from the time that the company was Hudson Overalls. The description of it as being Blue Bell was added years later, and the dating of 1914 is approximate. I think it could actually be a bit earlier, judging from the hair and clothing.

      Thanks so much for your input. Is the Coe Seed & Grocery still standing?

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      • The Coe Grocery & Seed Store is still standing, and my partners and I have purchased and relaunched Hudson Overall Company, operating out of this building with our store, Hudson’s Hill. If you would care to loan these photos to us, we would love to have them on display at our store, located at 527 South Elm Street, in Greensboro, NC. I do not believe they were Hudson Overall Co. at the time of this photo based on patent dates of some of the industrial sewing machines and based on the building orientation.

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        • Thanks for the information. I’ve based my dating on the date inscribed on the back and on the hair and dress of the workers. I can’t imagine it would be any younger than 1918, but then I’m clueless about the types of machines.

          I’ll be happy to make a scan of the photo for you, but cannot loan the original.

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  8. Bob Kellogg

    Very nice photos. I started working for the Blue bell company in 1950, and worked for 37 years. It was a great company that made all kinds of clothing by the time I was on board. Their focus was on high quality, Inexpensive clothing..

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  9. Chris Venable

    Thanks for posting the photo. My great-grandmother worked for Blue Bell Overall Overall Co in Middlesboro, KY. I imagine her working day looked a lot like the scene in that photo.

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  10. Robert E Vick

    does anyone know what happened to the Lockheed Constellation airplane Blue Bell had in Greensboro, NC?

    Like

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