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.

Further Reading

Thomas Hiram Holding: Father of Modern Camping

Thomas Hiram HoldingThomas Hiram Holding was, in 1908, the worlds leading proponent and practitioner of camping. It seams strange to me now to think that there was a time when humans didn’t camp for enjoyment. But up until the late 1800s people camped out of necessity not sport.

Oh sure there were folks who camped while undertaking a sport, say hunting, but camping was a given for the long distance traveler and so not something one did for enjoyment.

Travel was in fact the reason for Holding’s first experiences camping. In 1853 the British tailor was only 9 years old and in the process of crossing the vast American plains with his parents. At the start of their 1,200 mile journey they camped along the banks of the Mississippi river for 5 weeks, the longest encampment of his life. Subsequently, they camped every night on their journey west upon finally leaving in the spring of 1853 until the end of their journey in August of that same year.

The following year, he took another wagon train East, from Salt Lake City, through the Rockies and back to civilization.

Jump forward another 24 years and the now 33 year old Holding found himself with a canoe. He wrote that the canoe led to camping, then to a multi-day canoe cruise and camping through the Highlands of Scotland.

He continued to camp, canoe and added in cycling as well. He was quote proud of the Cycle-Camping epidemic which spread through the British country side. In 1878 Holding, and others, formed the Bicycle Touring Club, and some few years later he and four friends managed a cycle-camping expedition through Ireland.

Cycle and Camp in  Connemara_smlAfter the Ireland adventure, Holding published the book, “Cycle and Camp in Connemara” in which he described his trek through the Irish country side and invited readers to contact him. There was enough interest in the endeavor that a new community formed as the Association of Cycle Campers in 1901. This organization later became the Camping a Caravaning Club, the largest camping enthusiast club in Briton today.

In 1906, he found himself declared the “greatest known authority on Camping” which started him down a path towards authoring the “Campers Handbook” which was published in 1908. You can still find a copy of the Campers’ Handbook for your own reading pleasure. Many of the tips and tricks still apply today, and the author’s humor make the read quite enjoyable.

Further Reading