Brown Duck in the Field: Carhartt and Farming
By Allie Penn, Archive Intern
When Carhartt was founded, we quickly gained the support of railroad workers who appreciated the high-quality construction and durability of our clothing. Realizing our heavy-duty workwear could appeal to a number of hardworking American industries, the Carhartt Overall Company decided to expand its market. The company’s next target was farmers across the nation. Like the railroad workers, farmers valued hard work as a way of life, and had long sought to find clothing that could hold up and support them during their long hours in the field.
In the 1920s, the Carhartt Overall Company began advertising directly to the agricultural community, placing advertisements in newspapers and magazines that were marketed directly to local farmers:
“Over 8 out of every 10 farmers right in your country read the Michigan Farmer. Carhartt is the only overall that is consistently advertised in this great farm paper.”
Appealing to enterprising salesmen and retailers of the era, company leadership stated that they had been receiving a steady stream of letters from consumers wondering where to purchase Carhartt products. In 1925 alone, the company reported having over 2,000 people requesting the location of their nearest Carhartt dealer. One farmer wrote:
“I wore Carhartt overalls for years and somehow got away from them, but lately I’ve been seeing your ads and was reminded that Carhartt’s were the best overalls I had ever worn. Please advise me the name of my nearest dealer. I want to buy Carhartt overalls.”
In addition to advertising, Carhartt used farming-centric newspapers to conduct market surveys, finding out what farmers liked and didn’t like and gaining a better understanding of what influenced them when they made their purchases:
“A few weeks ago, the Michigan Farmer sent a letter to farmers throughout the state asking what brand of overalls they prefer. More than 40% of these farmers expressed a preference for the high-quality, union made goods that are available only at independent merchants!”
Beyond marketing directly to farmers, we also reached out to our retailers in America’s hardworking agricultural communities:
“Carhartt Overalls will give the farmer more value, more comfort, more hard wear, than any cheap garment he can buy in a chain store. The farmer knows it, too. He has had years of buying cheap goods because he thought he couldn’t afford better. He is ready now to trade up—and, with this strong Carhartt campaign to tell him about you, his independent merchant, he’ll shop with you.”
The company distributed folders to their local retailers and salesmen encouraging them to reach out to their local communities. “Imagine yourself a farmer who received this at home, who reads it at his leisure. Wouldn’t you be impressed?” Beyond the informational packet, Hamilton Carhartt corresponded with retailers himself, encouraging them to supply farmers with durable Carhartt products, as he knew they would become loyal, lifelong customers of the brand.
Further, we created and distributed special promotional gifts in order to attract farm buyers. Some of the earliest Carhartt gifts with purchase were the Carhartt Farm, Stock, and Crop Account Books.
These books not only served as a great advertisement for Carhartt, but provided farmers with a helpful resource to track animal breeding, crop costs, time sheets, and other business-related information. Other notable gifts of the era included bandana handkerchiefs and gloves.
In addition to gift giveaways, Carhartt held a variety of promotional campaigns to raise awareness for the brand and gather new customers in need of rugged workwear products. In one 1925 advertising campaign, the company gave away eight automobiles. In another, free goods were offered to individuals who returned buttons and tags from their purchased Carhartt overalls.
All the while, new technologies, such as radio, were used to appeal to a broader range of customers. In 1928, listeners of the WEBQ radio station in Harrisburg, Illinois were offered a free bandanna if they wrote in to the Carhartt Overall Company after hearing the advertisement. On September 8, 1935, the company launched a Carhartt radio program featuring the Carhartt Girls. The radio program was free, and was sponsored by the same independent merchants who featured Carhartt overalls in their stores. By tuning in to the program, listeners could also win prizes. This program was broadcast via ABC Indiana, and helped Carhartt successfully tap into the agricultural market.
In 1939, in honor of our 50th anniversary, Carhartt offered Univex Cameras for a very discounted price of 25 cents. The camera seen below is part of a newspaper advertisement. It would have been similar to the one that was given away as part of the campaign.
More than most, Hamilton Carhartt understood the importance of farming, as it was also an integral part of the Carhartt manufacturing process. The company was dependent on farmers to grow the cotton that made the overalls — without cotton to process in the Carhartt Cotton Mills, the manufacturing process would never begin:
“We glory in the fact that we pay Two ($2.00) Dollars per dozen more for the manufacture of the Carhartt Overalls, with farmers’ sons and daughters, than do our competitors who imitate our garments.”
Ultimately, marketing to America’s farmers laid a foundation that would prove mutually and enduringly beneficial. Carhartt needed farmers, and farmers needed rugged, high-quality gear they could count on 24/7. By supplying them with longer-lasting goods, Carhartt helped farmers work harder and more efficiently than ever before. Though there are few things constant or predictable in farming, the unsurpassed value, functionality, and durability of Carhartt workwear has always been one.