Like many adventurous, enterprising young men of the time, James Churchill left Ontario, Canada in the 1890’s to seek his fortune in the vast expanse of the western United States.Â He settled in Washington, along a well-traveled wagon route halfway between Portland and Seattle.Â The town of Centralia, Washington, newly founded by a freed slave from Missouri named George Washington, had a population of around 1,000 at the time. Churchill plied his trade as an itinerant peddler, traveling the area in a horse-drawn wagon, selling crockery and tin ware.
Some of Churchillâ€™s customers were Native Americans from the Chehalis tribe. After taking some deer hides from members of the tribe as exchange for his wares, Churchill thought he’d made a bad trade.Â What could he possibly do with the parcel of uncured deerskins?Â Unbeknownst to him, this seemingly ill-advised barter would set a course that would define not only the rest of his life, but that of the next three generations of Churchills.
True to his enterprising nature, Churchill had the hides tanned and began sewing them into gloves, which turned out to be a hot commodity for the areaâ€™s booming timber industry.Â Sturdy and durable, yet able to retain its flexibility after getting wet, deerskin was much better suited for gloves than the more commonly used cowhide. It wasn’t long before hr was selling more gloves than crockery out of his horse-drawn cart.
Churchill phased out the kitchenware and focused solely on gloves, working to perfect the craftsmanship and materials that went into his product. In 1897, he opened his first glove-making factory in Centralia. The business continued to thrive.Â Seven years later, he expanded into a second factory building.
Churchill Gloves Today
Over a century later, Churchill’s grandson, Niles and his great-grandsons, Mike and Andy, carry on the family tradition of glove-making excellence. In an era when most companies farm out manufacturing to take advantage of cheap overseas labor, the James Churchill Glove Company’s 35 employees turn out 38,000 pair of gloves annually from their Centralia factory.
“We specialize in customer service and quality,” says Mike Churchill.Â “We believe in ‘Made in America'”. They still use the highest quality thread and a wax enhanced lock-stitch, which, unlike the chain stitch used in cheaper gloves, insures a severed thread won’t cause the gloves to fall apart. Only the finest grades of deer and elk hides from the U.S. are used. And just in case an imperfection has slipped through the cracks, every glove is tried on by an inspector before it’s shipped.
You can see why, although you might pay more for a pair of Churchill gloves, they’ll last two to three times longer than the cheaper variety. In fact, you might end up passing them on to your children. No doubt James Churchill would still be proud of the legacy he created.
Copyright Â© 2009 Darryl Abrahms