Sexton Manufacturing Company

Figure 1.--

Sexton Manufacturing Co was a major manufacture of underwear in the United States. The Sexton Manufacturing Co. was locted in Fairfield, Illinois. The company was founded by George C. Sexton from St. Louis who took over a small Woolen Mills in Fairfield, Illinois (1907). The modernized mill made blue shirts and overalls. Blue shirts at the time were work clothes because the collars did not show dirt like white shirts. Overalls were also worn by working men. The new company, however, soon ran into financial problems (1909). Mr. Sexton company was saved by his brother-in-law, H. G. Ferguson. It is at this time that the Sexton Company began making men's 'athletic' underwear. By 'athletic' the company was referring we think to active, meaning it was suitable for working men as well as children. A reader writes,"Athletic" underwear is a term that was much used during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. I usually means briefly cut--i.e. underwear that is sleeveless, has wide arm-holes, or is loose like BVDs and has short or trunk legs. It was applied to knit underwear as well as summer nainsook underwear. It was applied to both waist union suits and to underwaists themselves. Of course all underwaists were sleeveless, but those with wide openings for arms or "skeleton" waists which didn't cover the entire chest were often called "athletic" to appeal to children, especially of course boys." The shift to underwear appears to have been a very wise business decesion. The business boomed. American entered World War I after Germany resumed unrestricted submarine warfare (1917). During World War I the company sold large quantities of underwear to the War Departmenbt to supply the U.S. Army. America expanded in a few months from a small professional force to one of the largest armies in the world. Exton was able to rapidly expand productiion to mee the new Army's needs. One source notes that in one week during World War I, the company produced 150,000 pairs of underwear for the War Department. We can follow the company's product line because it advertized extensively in major American publications. The Sexton company provided no only employment, but company-built housing for people in Fairfield, Illinois. Furnishing housing was something many important companies did at the time. The company was an important force in the growth of the town. The Sexton boys' waist suits, advertised in 1921, were a boys' version of men's 'athletic' nainsook union suits widely sold by the Sexton Co., but the boys' version featured reinforcement straps, waist buttons for fastening on short trousers, and special tabs for supporters that allowed the garters to be worn either inside or outside the underwear (a feature similar to that of Alheneeds made by Sprague). These union suits were called 'waist union suits' because they added features of underwaists to the standard uniin suits. One of the porimary purposes was to hiold up long stockings. Boys and girls in the early-20th century commonly wore long stockings and this continued through the 1920s. Sexton summer underwear (mostly union suits and waist union suits) was widely worn by men and boys throughout the United States for about 25 years (1910-35). Sexton often advertized in Goodhousekeeping Magazine. A good example is an 1921 advertosement. We also notice a local newspaper ad in 1921. We see fewer ads with the onset of the Depression in the 1930s. Mr. Ferguson during the Depression sold stock to workers and local people in Fairfield, Illinois (1935). Sometime after that the company went out of business. Most of the investors lost the money they invested.


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Created: 4:20 AM 8/31/2008
Last updated: 8:39 PM 9/29/2011