Wednesday, August 22, 2018
1910s Athletic Union Suit


Major Events of the 1910s

Halley's CometHalley's Comet
 (pictures left) lit up the US sky to usher in this exciting decade — and by the time it closed the European skies were being lit by the firebombs and artillery of World War I. Throughout this period, technological advances began to change society. While Ford refined his assembly line and wealthy Americans scrambled to be on the maiden voyage of the ill-fated Titanic, men wore union suits of every kind. Whether Lastlong, Rockwood’s, or Hatch, they boasted of new fabrics and new cuts, each claiming to be the "best ever."

The Panama CanalThe Panama Canal (pictured right) opened after thousands of men had toiled away for years, perhaps in Chalmer’s Porosknit summer underwear, trying to beat the tropical heat. The first transcontinental telephone line was completed in 1914, and in 1915 Alexander Graham Bell spoke to Thomas A. Watson in the first transcontinental call, from New York to San Francisco. In 1918 Cooper's-Bennington advertised Spring Needle Underwear for Real men ("Men who take the world as they find it and mold it to suit themselves — strip them of their outer garments and you'll find — Cooper's-Bennington"). These men did not communicate with their underwear. They were clean men who liked clean workmanship, honest men who wanted honest values.

Charlie ChaplinCharlie Chaplin (pictured left) introduced America to the magic of cinema, creating the look, the walk and the costume of the Little Tramp. In 1914, Charlie's distinctive garb no doubt covered his one-piece union suit. But when Jim Thorpe, hailed as the "greatest athlete in the world," won the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, he was wearing much less … both in his visible athletic wear and in what was under it. Then Tarzan, in his loincloth, became a popular screen hero, and men everywhere began thinking that maybe less clothing really was better, especially in the first layer, next to the skin.

John SullivanWhile John Sullivan (pictured right) had made the male world conscious of "long johns," Jack Dempsey’s victory in the world heavyweight boxing championship in 1919, made them take notice of boxer shorts … not yet an undergarment, but a sign of things to come. Meanwhile the army found it too warm for WWI soldiers to wear union suits, so they issued them knitted T-shirts and broadcloth or knitted drawers with a waist drawstring. 116,500 of America’s fighting boys lost their lives in Europe, but those that made it home brought their newfound love of less-covering underwear back to America’s shores.

Woodrow WilsonThis tumultuous decade came to a close with more shining lights — the adoption of Daylight Savings Time in 1918 and the promise that Woodrow Wilson (pictured left)represented when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919. American men were ready for peacetime and for some bright new ideas in their skivvies. Advertisements provided a litany of what could — and did — go wrong in fitting the male anatomy. Springtex claimed if "Remember to buy it, you'll forget you have it on." The Imperial Underwear Company guaranteed that "The Imperial 'Drop Seat' ensures an absolutely closed crotch under every possible condition."

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