the world works in crown overalls



i have always wondered if the man standing beside the car in this real photo postcard is actually oscar berman, but short of finding another copy that documents the gentleman's name on the back there is really no way to tell. the image is not sharp enough when enlarged and even then it would be more of an educated guess than an accurate identification. as far as the date of the image goes, it was definitely taken in the early 1920s, based on the man's attire, style of the automobile, and slogan "the world works in crown overalls," copyright 1920.

oscar berman entered the overalls business in a partnership established with samuel levy in 1903. The firm was named berman & levy, but they called the concern the crown overall company. after about ten years the partnership was dissolved, eventually coming to a lawsuit filed by berman against levy for starting a new overalls company, an act that was not allowed by the terms of their partnership's dissolution.

berman continued on with the crown overall company and crown was a successful label for many years. sometime in the late 1920s to early 1930s crown acquired headlight overall manufacturing company. crown/headlight was ultimately bought by carhartt in the 1960s. eventually i'll get around to clarifying these dates with someone at carhartt.

one of the more interesting projects oscar berman was involved with was the 1925 commissioning of "prison labor for private profit: survey and report on the prison labor situation.", authored by kate richards o'hare, a controversial figure of the american left to say the least. the report's committee was sort of a who's who in american work wear manufacturing for the time and also included t.a.rickert and b.a.larger of the united garment workers of america, r.j.noren of the union-made garment manufacturer's association, a.e.larned of larned carter & co. (headlight overalls), and s.a.sweet of sweet, orr & co. the report offers an invaluable introduction to the conditions in which many manufacturers were having their garments produced in the early 1900's, most notably milton f. goodman of the reliance manufacturing company. the report is a quick read, so please follow my link and do so.

when i first stumbled upon ohare's prison labor report a few years ago i was immediately struck by the composition of its committee. the quality of the garments and designs that crown, headlight, and sweet-orr produced had always caught my attention, but to find a document in which they support a call for ethics in manufacturing was sweet confirmation for my belief that they were among the truly great companies of their time.

the three companies' histories are not without error for sure, that would be virtually impossible. however, i feel that as we look to the past and envision our future, their stories help to inform the actions we take in the present, especially for those of us who are concerned with the reinvention of manufacturing in north america.