Lloyd Anderson: Founder of REI

REI had it's humble beginnings just outside Seattle, Washington, USA. It was a series of small events which caused Anderson, his wife Mary and their climbing friends to form the co-op. It all started because of a $12 climbing axe.

Lloyd and Mary Anderson.
Thanks Jonathan Colman via Google+

Lloyd Alva Anderson was born in Roy, Pierce County, Washington August 4th, 1902 on his uncles dairy, to parents of Canadian and Scottish ancestry, John and Marry Anderson. Growing up he would chop wood and worked in a creamery. He obtained his BS in electrical engineering in 1924 and began amateur climbing as a young man in the late 1920’s. In 1932 he married Mary Gaiser and they remained partners, on and off the mountain, till Lloyd’s death in 2000. Together they had two daughters, Ruth and Susan.

While Anderson retained his position with the Seattle transit system as an electrical engineer from 1924 to 1971, when he retired, he’s most known for being an avid climber — he scaled 428 peaks in his career — and founding America’s largest retail cooperative, Recreational Equipment Inc. or REI in 1938.

REI had it’s humble beginnings just outside Seattle, Washington, USA. It was a series of small events which caused Anderson, his wife Mary and their climbing friends to form the co-op. It all started because of a $12 climbing axe.

It was 1936 when Anderson ordered a climbing axe from a Seattle distributor, an axe he expected was Austrian. When the axe came in several months later though it was in fact from Japan — Japan’s metallurgy was known to be inferior in those days — and at a cost of $12. That was a full day’s wages for Anderson, the city electrical engineer. Anderson ended up ordering the axe he actually wanted directly from Austria a short time later, it arrived at a cost of $3.50 including shipping. He ordered several more for his fellow climbers and in 1938 a lawyer suggested Anderson and his cohorts form a co-op to formalize the arrangement.

Anderson and freindsAnderson and his pals each paid in $1 and by the end of 1938 there were 82 card carrying members, Lloyd and Mary carried cards numbered one and two. That year the co-op divided a $212 profit, generated by $1,361 in sales. For the first half of the co-op’s existence, the Andersons managed all shipping from their home, becoming the Seattle post office’s largest customer. The warehouse was in the attic, Mary ran the office from the kitchen and Lloyd tinkered with product development from a shop in the garage.

Anderson on right.

Anderson on right.

Early REI product tag.

Early REI product tag.
via History of Gear

Anderson remained president of REI till 1971 when he retired from both REI and the Seattle transit system. After his departure REI headed quickly towards providing a more generalized outdoors inventory at the over 77 retail stores. While Anderson personally didn’t care much for the fancy gear, choosing to remain true to the old-school climbing gear and apparel, he still patronized the REI stores. It’s said he got a real kick from providing his #1 membership card at checkout to employees with shocked expressions.

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