Pendleton Woolen Mills

Pendleton Woolen Mills is an American apparel manufacturing company located in Portland, Oregon, United States. The company is internationally known for its high-quality woolen garments and blankets.

Company Origins

The company’s beginnings were in 1889—not yet under the name Pendleton—by Thomas L. Kay when he opened his own woolen mill, the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill in Salem, Oregon. Kay was an immigrant from England and a weaver by trade. He had previously worked in various textile mills on the east coast of the United States. In 1863 he made a transcontinental trek to the west coast and began working in the woolen mills in Oregon. Before opening his own mill in Salem, he had helped to set up only the second mill in Oregon at Brownsville.

Kay brought his oldest daughter, Fannie Kay, into the business and after learning the operation and management of the mill, she became her father’s assistant. In 1876 Fannie married retail merchant C.P. Bishop. This proved to be a great benefit to Kay’s company and to the Bishop enterprises in the combination of manufacturing and retail sales. The Bishops passed their expertise and knowledge to their three sons: Clarence, Roy, and Chauncy.

Pendleton Woolen Mills

In 1909 the family moved to Pendleton in northeastern Oregon and took over the old defunct Pendleton Woolen Mills to begin the business there. The town of Pendleton backed the family in their new business venture and the Bishops’ company also took over the name Pendleton Woolen Mills. The move to eastern Oregon made sense for the business because eastern Oregon is sheep country and having wool producers near the mills allowed the mills to significantly cut the costs of production. The town of Pendleton is a major railhead for the Columbia River Plateau and allowed convenient shipping for the growing business.

The old mill that was taken over by the Bishops had been built in 1893 and had been a wool scouring plant where raw wool is scrubbed and packed before shipping out to the textile mills. In 1895 the mill was enlarged and converted into a textile mill and in 1896 began making Indian blankets—geometric patterned robes (unfringed blankets) for Indian men and shawls (fringed blankets) for Indian women in the area—the Umatilla, Cayuse and Walla Walla tribes. That business eventually failed and the plant stood idle until it was purchased by the Bishop family. When the Bishop family took over the plant they built a new plant with the assistance of the town of Pendleton, which issued bonds for the construction of the plant.


The family resumed the production of Indian blankets and introduced new designs, colors, and patterns to their product line. They also changed the construction of the mill's Indian blankets. Prior to 1909 the blankets had round corners. The Bishop blankets featured square corners. Pendleton round corner blankets are highly coveted by vintage Indian blanket collectors. The company expanded their trade from the local Indians to the Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni peoples of the American Southwest. The Pendleton blankets were not only basic wearing apparel, but were standards of trading and ceremonial use.


The company began to expand their product line into other woolen products such as clothing. In 1912 the company opened a weaving mill in Washougal, Washington (across the river from Portland) for the production of woolen fabrics used in suits and other clothing.

One of the original three Bishop sons, Clarence Morton Bishop—usually known as “C.M.”—started a new product line of men’s woolen sport shirts in bright colors and patterns. Prior to that time woolen shirts had been considered work shirts and came in mostly dull colors. In 1924 the company began producing men’s woolen sport shirts and by 1929 the company was producing a full line of woolen sportswear.

The second Bishop son, Roy, had left the company in 1918 to form his own company, the Oregon Worsted Company. The third son, Chauncy, died in 1927. This left C.M. with the sole responsibility for management of the Pendleton Woolen Mills.

During World War II, 1941–45, Pendleton Woolen Mills devoted most of its production to uniforms and clothing for the US military services.

In 1949, after postwar market research showed a desire for women’s sportswear, the company introduced a line of wool clothing for women and the 49er jacket proved extremely popular.

In 1960, a little-known singing group known as "the Pendletones" was formed, taking their name from the classic Pendleton wool plaid shirt. This group later changed their name to The Beach Boys and the Pendleton shirt became popular among American youth.

In 1972 the company again expanded its product line with the introduction of non-wool garments for men and women. Many customers had a desire for the classic Pendleton look but wanted lighter clothing for spring and summer wear. Again the new line was a major success for Pendleton.

Retail Distribution

Throughout the company’s history its products had been sold in specialty stores and selected department stores—including, of course, C.P. Bishop’s original clothing store in Salem. In the 1980s Pendleton entered the retail business with a chain of company-owned and privately owned specialty stores that sold the full line of Pendleton products. The company also went into the mail-order business and regularly published its own catalogs. In the 1990s Pendleton expanded into internet sales.

The company today

As of 2005 the company is still privately held and under the management of the Bishop family. C.M. Bishop III, the great-grandson of C.P. Bishop, is the president; great-grandsons John and Charles are vice presidents; and great-grandson Peter is the manager of the company’s catalog/internet division. The company operates eight facilities and 75 retail stores. Pendleton products are sold in the USA, Canada, Japan, and China.

The headquarters of the company are in Portland, Oregon. The original plants in Pendleton and Washougal are still in operation, along with two mills in Portland and a manufacturing plant in Bellevue, Nebraska.

Mission Mill Museum

The original Thomas Kay Woolen Mill in Salem was still operated by the Bishop family until it was closed in 1962. The mill was subsequently purchased by the [ Mission Mill Museum Association] , a private, non-profit organization formed in 1964. It is the only woolen mill museum west of Missouri and has one of the few water powered turbines in the Pacific Northwest that still generates electricity from a millrace.

External links

* [ Pendleton Woolen Mills website]
* [ Hoovers report on Pendleton Woolen Mills, Inc.]
* [ History of the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill in Salem, Oregon]
* [ Historic photo archive — The Pendleton Woolen Mill in 1934]
* [ Current picture of Pendleton Mill]
* [ Designs of Pendleton Native American blankets] — Commercial site, but shows some beautiful traditional-style Indian blankets and robes
* [ Pendleton Blankets] — Commercial site, but shows some beautiful traditional-style Indian blankets and robes
* [ Story on American Indian trade blankets]
* [ Story on American Indian trade blankets]
*(2007) " [ Wrapped In Tradition: The Chihuly Collection of American Indian Trade Blankets ] "Mayborn Museum Complex, Waco, Texas

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