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A Guide to
Sanforized Labeling

Who was
“Sanford L. Cluett”?

 

SANFORD L. CLUETT, 1874-1968

Sanford L. Cluett changed the way America looked.
He helped put an end to exposed wrists and ankles,
constricted waistlines and busting buttons.
The
invention that bears his name, "Sanforized" fabric,
made it possible to wash clothes over and over
again without shrinkage.

Born in 1874 in Troy, NY, Cluett was a nephew of the three Cluetts who started the detachable collar and shirt making giant in the city. He did not join in the family business until he was 45 years old.

His background was as varied and intriguing as the indefatigable curiosity that led him to become an inventor with 200 patents in his name.

"If more people would get curious and open their eyes and ears and minds, they would be much happier and incidentally, more successful, " he once said.

When he was 10, he surveyed and mapped Raquette Lake in the Adirondack Mountains using a carpenter's level, some metal screw eyes and a music stand.
As a teenager, he lived in Florida for a number of years because of ill health. While there, he hunted the swamps for alligators, befriended the Seminoles and learned their language, and became an expert marksman.

After dropping aspirations of a career in medicine, he later attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he pioneered investigations into ballistics. After graduation, he entered the Spanish-American War to work in the engineering corps. He went on to do much of the key engineering design work for the Big Sandy River Dam project in Kentucky, where he reportedly was almost shot by suspicious mountain folk who thought he was a revenuer. At the age of 27, he became chief engineer of an upstate New York harvesting machine company, inventing new and improved designs.

Cluett was famous as a meticulous man who made written records of his every thought. According to one story, after a lunch meeting with businessmen talking about one of his inventions, he returned to retrieve the tablecloth on which he had sketched some ideas. He had the tablecloth notarized and kept it. It was later used as evidence in a patent suit.

Cluett joined his uncles' business in 1919. Troy factories were cranking out 3 million detachable collars a week then, shipping them all over the world. But in the 1920’s, people were getting used to wearing soft collars attached to shirts. Collar sales were plummeting. The company tried to get into collar-attached shirts but had to deal with the defect of shrinkage when they were washed. No one would buy pre-washed shirts. Cluett needed to find a way to shrink the shirts before they were washed.

Cluett concluded the cause of shrinkage was the stretching of fabric in the manufacturing process. When the fabric was washed, it returned to its normal state. He developed a "compressive shrinkage process" that soon carried the trademark "Sanforized," named for its inventor. Cluett Peabody & Co., Inc. licensed the process and made it available to everybody in the textile industry.

Suddenly, people could be sure when they bought a garment that it would fit them for as long as they owned it. Previously, fitting new clothes was mostly guesswork. The only certainty was the garment was going to shrink. The innovation launched “Cluett, Peabody & Co., Inc.” into its second generation as Arrow collars were replaced by Arrow shirts.

Sanford Cluett died in 1968 in Florida.

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