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American Made, One Leg at a Time - July 27, 2018

Q: In 1889, a company was established in Salina that sold food, furnishings, school supplies, notions and clothing for working men and women. What name brand clothing item was first produced by this company in Salina?

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A: Lee Jeans

Henry David Lee was the founder of HD Lee Mercantile Company in Salina, inventors of Lee Jeans. The first Lee Jeans brand of denim jeans were produced in Salina in the early 1900s.

Henry David Lee was born in 1849 in Vermont. In 1862, he moved to Galion, Ohio, where he worked as a hotel clerk. Using profits from various investments, Lee purchased the Central Oil Company of Galion. Lee's oil business did well. But his doctor advised him to move west. Lee suffered from tuberculosis and his doctor encouraged him to move away from the pollution of the industrialized state of Ohio. At the time, it was believed the climate out west might help ease his condition.

Lee moved to Salina in 1889 and set up the H.D. Lee Mercantile Co. Soon, his company became the major food distributor between Kansas City and Denver. The company's product line expanded to include the sale of notions, furnishings, stationery and school supplies. The mercantile company also supplied clothes to the working man (and woman), which led to the creation of Lee Jeans, at the company's factory in Salina. According to the company's website, HD Lee Mercantile Company became dissatisfied with the quality and inconsistent delivery of workwear from suppliers. Lee decided his company could do better and, in 1912, he opened a factory to sew overalls and jackets.
Fun factoid: Lee introduced many innovations in the world of denim wear, including the zipper fly for Lee Cowboy Jeans. These jeans were designed for the specific needs of cowboys and rodeo riders, with the so called U-shape saddle crotch and button fly.

Want more Kansas Trivia? Keep your pants on! We've got an online trivia trove right here.