Bradley Knitting Company of Delavan, Wisconsin

Over the years I have written quite a bit about Bradley, maker of bathing suits and wonderful 1920s sweaters, but a recent project I’m working on led me to revisit the company. Previously I wasn’t able to find great details on Bradley, but a newer article on a Wisconsin news site, The Beacon, was full of really interesting stuff.

The name Bradley has long been associated with Delavan, Wisconsin, first as a dry goods store, then as a department store, and finally as a maker of woolen knitwear. But the factory actually started in Chicago as Globe Knitting Mills. The operation was moved to Delavan in 1903, and in 1905 it was bought and renamed by the owners of the Bradley Department Store (which still exists, by the way).

The company quickly grew. By 1914 it was large enough to accept an order from the British government for one million sweaters to outfit soldiers fighting in World War I. Unfortunately, the shipment was loaded upon the Lusitania, which was sunk by a German U-boat in May, 1915.  The order was duplicated, and when the US entered the war, Bradley made sweaters for the US Army as well.

Being located in a small town, Bradley often had problems keeping a full work force. In 1919 they built Bradley Hall to house young woman workers. The building still stands an apartment building.

As you can see on my fan above, the Bradley slogan was “Slip into a Bradley and out-of-doors.”  They were primarily a maker of sportswear, especially knit wool bathing suits and athletic sweaters. Several major league baseball teams had team sweaters made by Bradley, and Babe Ruth was pictured in 1926 on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post wearing his Bradley sweater.

All was well until the stock market crash of 1929 and the resulting Great Depression. Bradley made it through the 1930s, but just barely. In 1941 the business was under bankruptcy reorganization when it was bought by one of the investors. With the US entering World War II, Bradley received another large order for sweaters. And after the war the company limped along by making a more diverse line of textile products. Finally, in 1949 Bradley was sold to AA Empire Company, and was relocated to New York. Items continued to be made under the Bradley label until sometime in the 1960s or early 1970s. The old Bradley mill was torn down in 2003.

Today there is a little museum of sorts in the Bradley Department Store. While doing a sprucing up of the store’s decor several years ago some great old items were found in the store’s storage. Included is a large banner showing the same diving pair you see illustrated on my fan.

8 Comments

Filed under Sportswear, Textiles

8 responses to “Bradley Knitting Company of Delavan, Wisconsin

  1. ceci

    Are you planning a field trip to Wisconsin? Maybe before it gets any colder up there!

    ceci

    Like

  2. Jacq Staubs

    THE ad poster art is FABULOUS! Now i have to read the rest of this! Thank you Lizzie!

    Like

  3. More treasures from BAM (Bramlett Archive and Museum). I love your collection of advertisements and catalogs. Not everyone would think to save them.

    Like

  4. Sending you photos of my “Bradley Muffler.” I can’t believe I own something mentioned in your blog.

    Like

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