The Most Influential Gear of All Time: Eddie Bauer Blizzard-Proof Down Jacket

1936

Skyliner jacket

The Skyliner was the second iteration of Bauer’s jacket     Photo: Courtesy of Eddie Bauer

Eddie Bauer was fishing with his trapper friend Red Carlson on the North Fork of the Skokomish River in Washington in 1935 when he nearly died of hypothermia. The pair had caught 100 pounds of winter-run steelhead when they headed back to the car a mile from where they were fishing. It was a 200- to 300-foot climb out of the steep river canyon with the fish and their gear. It was snowing, but the men were overheating from the exertion of the trek, so they took off their heavy wool mackinaws. Bauer’s shirt became soaked from the sack of fish and sweat. By the time he reached the top, his cotton long johns had frozen and his body temperature was dropping. He stopped to rest against a tree and immediately started to fall asleep. Realizing that he was dangerously hypothermic, Bauer fired three shots into the air with his revolver to alert Carlson, who was out of sight. Carlson revived his friend and got Bauer back to the car.

When Bauer was a boy, his Uncle Lesser had told him stories of serving in the Russian army during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05) in Manchuria, and about the down-filled coats the Russian officers wore to keep warm in the bitter winters. And by the time of that 1935 climb, when he remembered these stories, Bauer had already been working with feather and down merchants making his own custom fishing flies and badminton shuttlecocks. He cut a pattern for a jacket that he thought would fit him and had a seamstress make a prototype from his pattern with diamond-shaped baffles to keep the down in place. When finished, Bauer delivered the jacket to one of the renowned mountain climbers in Seattle at that time, Ome Daiber, who loved it, and then went to work manufacturing the first jackets for Bauer until he couldn’t keep up with the volume of orders. And so, in 1938, Bauer formed Arctic Feather & Down Co. to manufacture his down jackets. "If I didn’t trust a piece of equipment, it wasn’t stocked," said Bauer. "If I needed equipment that wasn't available elsewhere, I developed it myself."

When Bauer introduced his down-insulated Skyliner Jacket the extraordinary qualities of goose down—exceptional warmth, lightweight, breathability, compressibility and durability—represented a paradigm shift in cold-weather equipment. It had immediate applications in mountaineering, exploring, skiing, hunting and fishing, as well as for people who worked outdoors in winter: linemen, miners, oilfield workers, ranchers.

By the time Bauer had introduced what became his second and third patented down garments—a quilted, hooded parka and matching quilted pants that were called, respectively, the Bauer Down Parka and the Bauer Down Flight Pants—Germany had invaded Poland, and World War II was underway. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, the U.S. government froze the commercial use of feathers and down and appropriated all the domestic supply for the war effort. By that time, a significant part of Bauer’s business was making down garments and sleeping bags, which he then sold to the U.S. Army—more than 200,000. That military connection helped to quickly broaden Bauer’s name recognition beyond the regional renown he'd earned in the Northwest. When mountaineers and skiers returned to the mountains after the war, Bauer’s goose down clothing and sleeping bags were perfectly poised for the Golden Age of Himalayan Mountaineering, as it became known. In 1953, when Charles Houston led the Third American Karakoram Expedition in an attempt to make the first ascent of K2, three of the eight climbers on the team were from Seattle. They came to Bauer to ask if he could build them special down mountaineering parkas.

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