Gantner Swim and Beach Wear, 1943

One of the great, but lesser-known California swimwear makers of the 20th century was Gantner-Mattern.  Like most of the makers of swimsuits, they started out as makers of knitwear – stockings, underwear, and sporting sweaters.  By the turn of the century, they were making the swimsuits that made them famous.

The company got its start in San Francisco in 1877 at the J.J. Pfister Knitting Company.  By the late 1890s, two employees, corporate secretary John O. Gantner and mill superintendent Alfred Mattern had left Pfister to start their own knitting company.  That was lucky for them because the Great Earthquake of 1906 destroyed the Pfister operation, while Gantner-Mattern was located in a safe area.  Pfister was able to rebuild with the help of two friends, but it is not known if the friends in question were actually Gantner and Mattern.

Swimwear quickly became the main product at Gantner-Mattern.  In the first days of the 20th century, swimming was becoming increasingly popular, and with the purchase of a Gantner-Mattern swimsuit, one got a free pair of waterwings to help the buyer learn to swim, or at least stay afloat!  In 1932, Gantner-Mattern was the first company to produce a topless swimsuit – for men!  Yes, it was still considered indecent in many places for a man to swim without a tank top in the early 1930s, but before long this quaint old custom was only a memory.

Like most advertising literature from the early 1940s, this catalog from Gantner makes many references to the war, though it doesn’t mention shortages.  That’s probably because the catalog was actually produced in 1942, before shortages became so acute in the US.

I had a fun time researching this label.  Most of the entries were for the many lawsuits that the company was involved in – price fixing after the war, not paying a former employee for work completed before he quit – the sort of thing that always bugged the clothing industry.  But most interesting was a reference to a strike in 1940, where women wore bathing suits and held placards at a union convention to show solidarity with locked-out workers at Gantner.

And here is a nice sampling from the catalog, including a good look at that famous men’s Wikie.

18 Comments

Filed under Advertisements, Sportswear, Summer Sports, World War II

18 responses to “Gantner Swim and Beach Wear, 1943

  1. Fabulous blog post! I am drooling over all the amazing swimsuits! And that is so interesting about the strike!

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  2. I will take CD 100, 104 and 115, please!

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  3. From the description of all that the Floating Bra does for you, I think we should’ve used it to win the war!

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  4. I’m trying to kind out more about the strike, so stay tuned.

    Becca, I love CD100 too! That’s the one I’d have been dreaming of!

    And yes, that floating bra sounds like a real secret weapon. When I first saw the name in an ad, I thought the suit had a built-in life preserver!!

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  5. Your ability to turn up this crazy obscure info amazes me!
    This is a terrific resource on many levels (thanks!)

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  6. Sigh, what an amazing set of photos. I am positively swooning.

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  7. Erica

    I instantly noticed how healthy these women look too. If models could still look like real women today! What a role model for younger girls. These women look comfortable, happy, and BEAUTIFUL. Of course, the “Floating Bra” doesn’t hurt 🙂

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  8. These are great scans – and very unusual! I hope you don’t mind if I re-blog one with credit.

    http://questionableadvice.tumblr.com/

    Laura

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  9. Tiffany

    I just found a Gantner and Mattern Co. swimsuit that looks brand new…can’t believe I bought it at a thrift store in California for only $8!

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  10. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, what more to say. So feminine and lively. That this was not the time of World War II, I would say that was nice time for living. I heard about Gantner-Mattern recently I am delighted them.

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  11. john bocchetti

    Tony Gantner told me this story and i almost fell of the chair, cause i use to see their shop in the city when i was just a kid..

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  12. David P

    I have found a pair of Gantner Wikies that I bought in the 60’s. It is a mens bikini brief. It was very skimpy for the time and I had 3 of them at one time. Only one remains in the drawer

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  13. I have a Gantner-Mattern suit from 1925. It was a rental suit at Fleischhacker Pool in San Francisco. Photos at https://www.facebook.com/dana.goduto

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